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Why Don’t All Colleges Have Their Admissions Data Audited?

As I’ve written before, there’s no Data Sheriff patrolling the sometimes-secretive realm of college admissions.

George Washington University reminded us of that on Thursday when it announced that its admissions office had inflated its class-rank data for more than a decade, substituting estimates for hard numbers. If not for an internal administrative review, the practice might have continued—undiscovered—forever and ever.

The news reminded me of a chat I had with Raymond A. Brown this past summer. Mr. Brown, dean of admission at Texas Christian University, believes that all colleges should agree to have their admissions data reviewed regularly by independent auditors.

For the last 12 years, Texas Christian has hired PriceWaterhouseCoopers to verify that the university’s admissions numbers—including applications, acceptances, and standardized-test scores—have been reported accurately. The audits happen about every three years; the most recent one was conducted last spring. So far, so good, the reviews have found.

The issue, as Mr. Brown sees it, is about maintaining the public’s trust in higher education. A college counselor, he says, once told him that she thought all colleges were cooking their books. “Ugh,” he recalls thinking.

Years ago, Mr. Brown says, he asked admissions deans at several selective colleges if any of them would care to join Texas Christian in having their data audited. “After the laughter died down,” he writes in an e-mail, “nobody did.”

At one point, Texas Christian indicated, in fine print on a brochure, that its admissions numbers were audited, but the university no longer publicizes that fact. Still, Mr. Brown thinks it’s a good thing to do. “It’s … useful in the rare circumstance that an interested party would want to know about the legitimacy of the numbers they are fed,” he writes. “Alas, far too few ever ask.”

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