July 26, 2014

Exaggerations mar UMKC applications for Princeton Review rankings

As Bloch School officials changed the ways they answered application questions, the percentage of students who launched a business soared, along with the numbers of clubs and mentorships — at least on paper.

The Princeton Review provided the first prized rankings for the Bloch School program that Michael Song built.

But a Kansas City Star examination of applications to the Princeton Review submitted by the Regnier Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation revealed several exaggerations.

Worksheets used to prepare those applications show how the rationale for answering some questions shifted between 2009, when only the graduate program was ranked, and 2011-2013, when both the graduate and undergraduate programs rose in the rankings.

When asked in the 2009 survey what portion of the most recent class of “formally enrolled graduate entrepreneurship students” had gone on to launch a business after graduation, the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s answer was 27.8 percent.

That was based on a survey of all MBA graduates, the worksheet said.

Fast forward to the 2012 survey, and UMKC said 100 percent of its graduate entrepreneurship students had launched a business after graduation.

But unlike in the 2009 survey, MBA grads weren’t a factor in UMKC’s 2012 answer. Instead, the worksheet obtained by The Star through an open-records request shows the answer was based entirely on participants in a one-year certificate program called Entrepreneurship Scholars, or E-Scholars. To complete the program and receive a certificate, a participant had to start a business.

Hence, 100 percent.

E-Scholars don’t have to be registered at UMKC to participate, yet they were counted as “formally enrolled graduate entrepreneurship students.”

Similarly, information pertaining to E-Scholars classes was used to answer at least two other questions regarding MBA students.

Also, the number of clubs and mentors appears to have been inflated. In 2009, UMKC told the Princeton Review it had four clubs open specifically to entrepreneurship students.

By 2011, the number reported had grown to 28. UMKC officials said that was based on Song’s evolving definition of what constituted a club. But others at the university say some of the clubs existed in name only on the IEI website.

“That was a huge problem, misrepresenting,” said a Ph.D. student who said he was asked to help create the clubs. He asked not to be identified for fear of retribution. “We were told to post the clubs online — just post clubs and descriptions. So the website had a large number of clubs that we never really had.”

Similarly, a single mentorship program was listed on the Bloch School’s 2009 Princeton Review application. That grew to 78 in 2013, based on Song’s updated definition of what constituted a mentorship program.

Again, E-Scholars information was used. The 100-plus businessmen and businesswomen mentoring E-Scholars participants offered “consultative support in any of 38 industries and 40 business function specialties,” according to the worksheet. Hence, 78 mentorship programs.

UMKC didn’t hide its methodology, said Dave Donnelly, who replaced Teng-Kee Tan as the school’s dean and was Tan’s deputy at the time. Donnelly said he checked with the Princeton Review’s editors at one point to see whether they had any objection to UMKC’s definitions and was told no.

David Soto, the director of content development at the Princeton Review, said he was not troubled by The Star’s findings concerning UMKC’s rankings applications.

Some faculty members, however, were uncomfortable with the numbers being reported. Donnelly acknowledged hearing criticism from the faculty.

Song contends there was a factual basis for the information submitted to the Princeton Review.

“I think we have been very conservative,” he said.

| Mará Rose Williams, mdwilliams@kcstar.com, and Mike Hendricks, mhendricks@kcstar.com

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