Question and Answer with Forrest Maltzman

The senior vice provost discusses what the university is doing to fix a defect in the collection and reporting of high school class rank.

November 15, 2012

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Q: What happened?
A: During the reorganization of the university’s undergraduate enrollment management functions in late August, a concern was raised by the Provost’s Office about what we were reporting as the percentage of incoming freshmen who ranked in the top 10 percent of their high school class. The Provost’s Office started looking into the matter further. An audit by Baker Tilly began in September. The results of the audit were reported to the Board of Trustees Finance and Audit Committee in October. High school class rank data for the class of 2015 was corrected by the end of October. We informed U.S. News and World Report and the GW community of the discrepancy Nov. 8.

Q: What data are in question?
A: When reviewing the undergraduate admissions and selectivity data, we noticed an error in the data for class rankings. (Class rank refers to where a senior in high school placed in his or her graduating class and is one of many statistics used to help determine the academic qualifications of incoming students.)   

Q: What is the discrepancy?
A: For the class of 2015, we reported that 78 percent of our students were in the top 10 percent of their high school class. This number was arrived at through a combination of actual and estimated ranking data.  Upon review, it should have been 58 percent.

Q: How did this mistake come to light?
A: As part of the reorganization of the Division of Student and Academic Support Services (SASS), the undergraduate enrollment management functions were moved to the Office of the Provost.  Subsequent to this reorganization, Provost Steve Lerman asked for a review of all enrollment practices. In the process of that review some questions were raised about the reliability of the class ranking data.

Q: What accounts for the 20-point discrepancy?
A: Because approximately two-thirds of high schools no longer report class rank, our admissions office estimated the class rank for those students who they assumed were at the top of their class. This estimation was based upon grade-point average and standardized test scores. As a result, the proportion of students in the top 10 percent of their class was inflated.

Q: How far back did this problem occur?
A: What the audit uncovered is the methodology used to estimate class rank has been flawed for more than a decade. The discrepancies became more pronounced as more high schools stopped reporting rank. We have corrected data for the class of 2015 (entering class of 2011), and we will no longer estimate class rank.

Q: Data was shared with whom?
A: These figures were reported to our Board of Trustees, posted on our website and included in our common data set submission and in the 2013 edition of U.S. News & World Report.

Q: Is the rest of the data on undergraduate admissions being reported accurately?
A: Under the direction of the Finance and Audit Committee of the George Washington University Board of Trustees, the auditing firm Baker Tilly Beers & Cutler was retained to look at other enrollment records about our undergraduate selectivity including the number of applications, acceptance rate, the percentage of accepted students who enrolled and SAT/ACT scores. The assessment revealed no reporting issues other than class rank. We will continuously monitor all enrollment data and conduct periodic audits. In addition, we are putting in place additional oversight to make sure our data are as accurate as possible.

Q: How will you report class rank data going forward?
A: We will only be reporting class rank when the high school either provides a rank or a percentile.

Q: Who will be responsible for reporting the data?
A: The Office of Academic Planning and Assessment, rather than the Admissions Office, will be responsible for both the reporting of the data and for verifying the accuracy of the data supplied by the Admissions Office. The university will independently audit the accuracy of the data.

Q: What are the safeguards you are putting in place?
A: The safeguards include Academic Planning and Assessment will now have oversight for data collected by admissions; all admissions data will be externally audited on a regular basis; and we are hiring a new leader for enrollment management.

Q: Was this done with malice?
A: No. Nothing we have learned through the independent audit has led to the conclusion that this action was taken with malice or with an understanding of the distortion it would create.

Q: How will this affect the U.S. News rankings?
A: U.S. News made the decision to remove GW’s numerical ranking until next year.

Q: Who oversees admissions?
A: We have begun a national search for a senior associate provost of enrollment management. In the interim, Senior Vice Provost Forrest Maltzman is overseeing admissions and we have instituted appropriate oversight to ensure admissions data are collected and reported accurately.