A proposed class action lawsuit alleges the University of Oklahoma and its board of regents have over the last 20 years misreported school data toU.S. News & World Reportin order to boost its placement in the publication's national collegiate rankings.
Filed by a former student at the university’s Price College of Business, the lawsuit centers on undergraduate institutional rankings released each year, in particular byU.S. News & World Report. These rankings, such as that for the Price School of Business in the plaintiff’s case, are a material factor for those deciding where to attend school, the complaint says. According to the complaint, Price was ranked 45thonU.S. News’sannual Best Colleges list, which ranks more than 11,500 schools and hundreds of individual programs. Price’s placement inU.S. News’slist contributed to the plaintiff’s decision to enroll at the University of Oklahoma, the woman claims.
To compile the rankings,U.S. Newscollects “tens of thousands of data points” from schools nationwide and other sources, such as the U.S. Department of Education and state and local governments, the lawsuit says. The rankings, according to the case, are produced on hard objective data alone, and do not take into account, say, the quality of residence halls or firsthand accounts of campus life from students. As such, rankings like those from U.S. News, the case stresses, are based largely on data provided by the universities themselves. In any event, it’s a rare occurrence for a school to informU.S. Newsthat it had misreported data used to calculate its ranking, the lawsuit says. In such a scenario, the case explains, a school will then find itself in the “unranked” category until it can confirm the accuracy of its next submission of data toU.S. News.
The University of Oklahoma was ranked byU.S. Newsin 2018 as among the top 100 colleges in the country for the first time in its history, the lawsuit continues, listed 97thoverall and at 41stamong public schools. That same year, however, the university, according to the case, “toldU.S. Newsthat it had inflated its alumni giving data since 1999.” Alumni giving data, the lawsuit explains, affects a school’s placement on lists such as “National Universities, Best Value Schools, Top Public Schools, Best Colleges for Veterans” and others.
“For the 2019 Best Colleges rankings, the University of Oklahoma originally reported its two-year alumni giving rate at 14 percent,” the lawsuit states. “The school informedU.S. Newsthe correct value is 9.7 percent. The average alumni giving rate has a weight of 5 percent in the Best Colleges ranking methodology.”
The plaintiff, who the suit says transferred from the University of Oklahoma to the University of Houston in 2017, alleges the defendants are responsible for “actual pecuniary injury and damages” stemming from their apparent failure to adequately disclose a host of material factors prospective students may take into account when considering where to enroll. Misreported alumni giving data notwithstanding, the plaintiff alleges that the University of Oklahoma failed to adequately disclose to proposed class members, those who enrolled in UO undergraduate programs between 1999 and the present, “the total direct cost, expected median student loan debt, cohort default rate, program completion rate, median earnings and job placement rate,” as well as that the school’s six-year graduation rate was 66 percent. Moreover, the plaintiff says the school also failed to disclose to proposed class members “issues surrounding transferability of completed credit hours” earned at the University of Oklahoma for those looking to transfer.
“The scandal has raised grave concerns about the integrity of the University of Oklahoma’s Administration and will have a long reaching negative impact on school’s reputation, prestige and peer rankings,” the suit says.