The business school at the University of Missouri–Kansas City has lost four years’ worth of top-25 rankings in the Princeton Review for falsifying data.
Sunday night, the ratings organization stripped UMKC of its spots on the 2014 list of the best entrepreneurship education programs in the country. It was the first time in its 34-year history that the Princeton Review had taken away a school’s rankings.
On Monday, UMKC lost its place on the top 25 lists for 2011, 2012 and 2013 after Chancellor Leo Morton acknowledged fabrications in its applications those years.
The actions, which follow the release Friday of an independent audit for the University of Missouri System, affect both the graduate and undergraduate programs at the Henry W. Bloch School of Management’s entrepreneurship program. In 2014, the graduate program was ranked No. 24 and the undergraduate program was No. 25.
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The school’s main benefactor, H&R Block co-founder Henry W. Bloch, issued a statement Monday evening:
“Over the years, I always expected every organization to which I provided philanthropic support to act in an open, transparent and truthful manner. As shocked and terribly disappointed as I am to learn that flawed data was submitted, I am now counting on UMKC’s leadership to ensure that a culture embracing the highest level of integrity is upheld at the Bloch School in the future.”
The incorrect data were the number of student clubs, the number of mentoring programs and some enrollment figures.
“We understand why the Princeton Review has taken this step,” Morton said in a statement. “Even one inaccurate data point is one too many, and our integrity is paramount. With that in mind, we have requested that The Princeton Review withdraw our rankings from 2011, 2012 and 2013, based on the inaccurate information provided for those years.”
When the audit was released Friday, Morton said the school had taken steps to improve its data collection and had created a special committee to oversee ranking submissions.
Princeton Review publisher Robert Franek said Monday that he was “extremely disappointed” to learn from the audit that UMKC had submitted inflated data.
“As a result of this new information,” Franek said in a statement, “and a subsequent letter from the University stating that data provided in 2011, 2012 and 2013 was also falsified, we are removing the University of Missouri-Kansas City from our rankings in all these years — 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 ranking lists of the best college and business school entrepreneurial programs.
“Schools earn a spot on our entrepreneurship ranking through school-reported data. Every school signs an affidavit to ensure their information is accurate. We take these affidavits and this news very seriously.”
The Princeton Review declined to take similar action last summer when The Star presented company officials evidence that UMKC had inflated its data.
At the request of Gov. Jay Nixon, the University of Missouri Board of Curators commissioned the audit last summer. The governor was responding to stories in The Star in July that described a pattern of exaggerations, misstatements and cherry-picked data by Bloch School officials in their pursuit of top rankings for the Regnier Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
Nixon on Monday called for the university to clean up its rankings application process.
“The report identified some clear areas for improvement, which I expect the university to promptly correct,” he said in a statement.
While UMKC officials denied submitting false data when questioned by reporters last year, the audit told a much different story. John Norton, the administrator responsible for submitting applications to the Princeton Review, told auditors that he knowingly submitted erroneous and inflated data because he felt pressured to do so and feared for his job.
After the graduate entrepreneurship program earned a spot on the list for the first time in 2009, the program fell off the list the next year.
Several months later, in early 2011, then-Dean Teng-Kee Tan wrote an email to administrators stressing the need to see UMKC regain a spot on the Princeton Review list.
“Henry Bloch gets very upset when our rankings go down,” Tan wrote. “We must do everything we can to increase it when we can by all means necessary.”
UMKC’s graduate and undergraduate programs both made the list later that year, but the audit shows that the application that year contained falsehoods suggested by Norton’s boss, Michael Song, who headed the Regnier Institute at the time.
Rankings applications submitted in 2012 and 2013 also contain inflated numbers, the audit said. However, auditors were unable to determine whether the top-25 rankings the school received those years would have stood even if correct data had been reported.
Among the false data submitted, the report said, were the numbers of student clubs and mentorship programs and enrollment figures for the entrepreneurship program. The Star’s stories also raised questions about those numbers.
A UMKC spokesman declined to talk about what, if any, disciplinary actions were taken against Song and Norton, who both remain on the staff. Any action would be a personnel matter and not publicly discussed as a matter of policy, the spokesman said.
The audit also reported on the previously undisclosed involvement of Song in the publication of a 2011-2012 article in an academic journal that ranked UMKC as the No. 1 school in the world for research in the field of innovation management.
Song told auditors he helped edit and may have written parts of the article. Earlier, he told The Star he couldn’t remember having anything to do with the article.
UMKC is not the first school guilty of cheating in pursuit of high rankings by companies and publications such as Princeton Review, U.S. News & World Report, Forbes and the Financial Times. All are key marketing tools that schools use to increase enrollment, attract top faculty and open donors’ wallets.
At least eight U.S. universities in the past three years discovered that their employees had submitted false data to such publications that helped boost the institutions’ rankings.
In 2013, four schools — Bucknell University, Emory University, Iona College and Claremont McKenna — were removed for two years from Forbes’ list of best colleges as penalty for such abuses.