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George Washington University Loses U.S. News 'Best Colleges' Ranking Over Data Inflation

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George Washington University is no longer ranked No. 51 on U.S. News & World Report's annual Best Colleges list, due to the revelation that the Washington, D.C. school, had been submitting faulty data to the magazine for more than a decade.

GWU was guilty of inflating the high school grades of its incoming students, reporting to U.S. News that 78 percent of its 2011 matriculates ranked in the top 10 percent of their high school graduating classes. The real number turned out to be much lower at 58 percent.

On Wednesday, Robert Morse, director of data research at U.S. News, explained in a blog post that the magazine decided to drop GWU from No. 51 to "Unranked."

"This Unranked status will last until next fall's publication of the 2014 edition of the Best Colleges rankings, and until George Washington confirms the accuracy of the school's next data submission in accordance with U.S. News's requirements," Morse said.

High school class rankings of incoming students can signal how selective or prestigious a college is considered, and potentially raise its ranking on the U.S. News list. For comparison, Georgetown University (No. 21) reports 90 percent of its incoming students come from the top tenth of their high school classes. For Vanderbilt University (No. 17), it's 89 percent, New York University (No. 32) reports 62 percent and Boston University (tied for No. 51) reports 55 percent.

Officials at GWU said they discovered problems with the class-rank data during an internal review of admissions statistics last summer, the Chronicle of Higher Education reports. Because not every high school keeps track of where students rank among their classmates, admissions officials were estimating the class rank of high-performing students they "assumed" were in the top 10 percent of their classes, based on their grade-point averages and standardized-test scores.

GWU President Steven Knapp self-reported the university's error to U.S. News, he said last week. In a statement on Wednesday, Knapp said the school turned itself in "without regard to any possible action that U.S. News might take as a result."

"We were surprised by the decision of U.S. News to remove George Washington’s numerical ranking rather than to correct it in light of our disclosure. U.S. News data about GW is still available on the U.S. News website," Knapp said. "We regret the error and have put safeguards in place to prevent such errors from occurring in the future."

U.S. News said it had not changed the ranking of any other school in the current Best Colleges list.

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