The dean of Temple University’s business school was ousted this week after an outside investigation found employees had inflated student test scores and grade point averages used in calculating a closely watched M.B.A. ranking.
Temple’s Fox School of Business held the top spot in a U.S. News & World Report list of over 200 online master’s in business administration programs for four consecutive years, including the 2018 rankings. In January, the publication revised the school’s position to “unranked” after being notified by Fox of its inaccuracies. The rankings are based on universities’ self-reported data about the number of students submitting standardized test scores to gain admission and other factors, such as average debt held by its graduates.
on Monday asked
Fox’s dean of 22 years, to step down immediately, as the results of a four-month review by the law firm Jones Day were made public.
“Fox School, under the leadership of Dean Moshe Porat, knowingly provided false information to at least one rankings organization about the online MBA,” Mr. Englert told students, staff and alumni in a letter about the probe’s findings.
The Jones Day report said, “Fox’s leadership and other employees” bore responsibility for sending erroneous information and on certain occasions doing so intentionally. The report didn’t name any employees other than Mr. Porat, and noted that in 2013 he disbanded a committee tasked with ensuring the accuracy of rankings data.
Mr. Porat didn’t respond to requests for comment.
University officials said they were informed by the business school’s leaders in January that Fox employees submitted false student testing numbers to U.S. News. Later that month, the university hired Jones Day to investigate the school’s data-collection and reporting practices.
“As the only organization that collects data at the program-level for online degrees, U.S. News & World Report relies on schools to provide accurate information,” said Brian Kelly, editor and chief content officer at U.S. News.
Mr. Kelly said he sent a letter to Temple on Tuesday requesting additional documents to verify data used to calculate the school’s overall college ranking as well as other degree programs offered. “The scope and duration of the misreporting at Fox calls into question all of Temple University’s submissions to U.S. News,” the letter said.
Self-reporting is a standard practice in the business of academic rankings, and every year news outlets like U.S. News publish their methods for analyzing survey responses they use to score participating schools. Rankings publishers assign different weights to factors such as student acceptance rates and alumni salaries.
School rankings are one of the most important considerations for students considering graduate school in professional fields, especially as variations on the traditional M.B.A. and new specialized degrees have proliferated. Lists created by news organizations can be valuable—not only to students because they offer a side-by-side comparison of more than 800 accredited business schools, but also to school administrators, many of whom say touting high rankings for flagship or niche degrees helps attract students and donations.
In addition to U.S. News, Bloomberg Businessweek and Nikkei Inc.’s Financial Times also provide business-school rankings. The Wall Street Journal is developing a ranking of M.B.A. programs in a partnership with Times Higher Education, a publisher based in London.
U.S. business schools have come under financial pressure in recent years because applications to traditional two-year M.B.A. programs are falling, triggering a shakeout. Some schools have tried to adapt by offering shorter, more flexible master’s programs, or dropping their flagship degrees entirely.
Temple University’s Fox was an early entrant into the market for online business degrees, launching an M.B.A. program in 2009. It invested in a new television studio on campus for professors to record lectures. The school also diversified its traditional business-related offerings and now has 14 specialty master’s degrees in areas like information-technology auditing and strategic advertising.
Tuition and fees for Fox’s online M.B.A. total roughly $60,000, according to the school, and applications have been on the rise since 2014.
After the school disclosed the falsified rankings, an online M.B.A. student at Fox, Kyle Smith, filed a lawsuit alleging administrators engaged in illegal fraud and deceptive business. Temple is fighting to dismiss the accusations in court proceedings.
In his complaint filed in February, Mr. Smith said students chose to pay for Fox’s top-ranked online program but “did not receive what they bargained for.”
On Tuesday, Temple officials announced a new reporting procedure that requires each Fox program to submit student, faculty and financial-debt data, as well as employment statistics for graduates, to a new overseer of performance data. The university also plans to hire additional staff to assist other Temple schools with data collection and oversight.
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