“U.S. News” officially released their 2022 rankings of the best American colleges in September of 2021, but July 7, they made the surprising announcement that they were pulling Columbia University from the list.
The decision follows recent accusations by one of their math professors, Michael Thaddeus. In a scathing 21 page exposé, Dr. Thaddeus claimed that Columbia’s rank as the second best college in the country was false as the university had provided insufficient and incorrect data to the magazine.
The first significant example he cited was the sizes of the university’s undergraduate classes. In the report submitted to “U.S. News,” Columbia claimed 82.5% of its undergraduate classes had under 20 students. For the professor, this was an immediate red flag, as “it did not conform to [his] experience at all.” His suspicions only grew when he was unable to find the source which the university had used to arrive at that number.
Typically, colleges release numbers like these to the public through what is called a Common Data Set. Columbia is one of just eight schools that do not release theirs.
Lucy Drotning, an Associate Provost in Columbia’s Office of Planning and Institutional Research, revealed that the ivy league prepares two different Common Data Sets which they obtained the 82.5% from. Although she added that “The University does not share these [data sets].”
Dr. Thaddeus wanted to investigate so he turned to Columbia’s Directory of Classes, which was made available to the public. Using these figures, Dr. Thaddeus was able to make his own calculations and estimated that the actual percentage of undergraduate classes with under 20 students was around 63%.
Statistically, students perform better when placed in environments with fewer students as it allows for them to build closer relationships with their peers and professors. Columbia prides itself on having small classes, emphasizing it as a part of their core curriculum, so Dr. Thaddeus’ findings are a major source of concern for the college.
The university addressed this accusation, countering “enrollment numbers from the Class Directory aren’t certified by the registrar and may deviate from the official count.”
Dr. Thaddeus was also suspicious of the $3.1 billion the university claimed to spend on “instructional costs” during the 2019-2020 school year. The professor wrote, “This is a truly colossal amount of money. It is larger than the corresponding figures for Harvard, Yale, and Princeton combined.”
After researching the university’s financial records, Dr. Thaddeus found that the $3.1 billion also included the cost of patient care in the university’s affiliated hospital — a number that would not normally be considered “instructional” as other universities such as the neighboring New York University deliberately exclude that cost. Columbia has not commented on how they arrived at the $3.1 billion.
The university released an official statement in March, when the accusations were first made. “[The university stands] by the data we provided to U.S. News and World Report. . . . We take seriously our responsibility to accurately report information to federal and state entities, as well as to private rankings organizations.”
Just four months later, the university announced that Columbia would not submit data to “U.S. News” for the 2023 ranking. “Columbia has long conducted what we believed to be a thorough process for gathering and reporting institutional data, but we are now closely reviewing our processes in light of the questions raised.”
Additionally, the university plans to “publish a Common Data Set that will provide a useful profile of the extraordinary undergraduate experience at Columbia.”