Claremont McKenna College, a private liberal arts college in Los Angeles, has earned international infamy for fraudulently misreporting its SAT scores to game the U.S. News & World Report rankings. Richard Vos, dean of admissions since 1987, resigned in disgrace Monday, starting a nationwide debate about the role of SATs in higher education and the integrity of Claremont’s admission process. But absent from any analysis is this: Vos began falsifying SAT scores in 2005, right around the time Claremont began to institutionalize racial preferences. An investigation of the data since released suggests that Claremont manipulated the school’s scores to cover up admittance of under-qualified minority students.
- Pamela Gann, Claremont McKenna College’s president
Every spring, Claremont reports SAT scores from the preceding fall entering class to U.S. News & World Report. For the class admitted in 2004, its scores and data are sent in March 2005 and published in the fall issue.
The timing is relevant here because, in 2004, Claremont began admitting its first of four classes from the Posse Foundation, a full-scholarship program for inner-city students from Los Angeles. Ten students were admitted per year into a class of about 250 students, for a total of 40 students over four years. The students were personally interviewed by Vos and Gann, according to a press release from the college’s website in late December 2003, but in his 2005 report to U.S. News–the first year Posse students were admitted–Vos began falsifying SAT scores. The actual and manipulated mean SAT verbal and math scores are below; the median are accessible here.
In 2007, Claremont began admitting students from QuestBridge, another scholarship program for students from poor and largely minority backgrounds. Posse has partnered with such schools as Bowdoin, Brandeis, Bryn Mawr, Colby, DePauw, Grinnell, Middlebury, and Vanderbilt; QuestBridge has partnered with some thirty-one other colleges, including most of the Ivy League, M.I.T., Pomona, Oberlin, Stanford, the University of Chicago, and Williams.
Although we do not know the statistics for the Posse students, we do have reason to doubt their academic qualifications as a group. At least one student flunked out and several took leaves of absence for academic reasons. A 1998 evaluation of the Posse program at Vanderbilt University found that athletes entered with an average of 1042 SAT score and maintained an average GPA of 3.13, while Posse students came in with a 900 average SAT and finished with a 2.93 average GPA. Due to the low grades of Posse students in their engineering programs, Rice and Lehigh canceled their involvement with Posse, according to the L.A. Times in 2004.
At Claremont, the class of 2011, admitted in 2007, is the only class admitted in its history to have members of both QuestBridge and Posse in its ranks. It was also the class that saw its mean math scores inflated the most – by 28 points.
Math SAT Scores, Courtesy of The Claremont Portside
The next worse year was the class of 2015–admitted in 2011–which had mean critical reading scores increased 23 points. Interestingly, this class has the highest percentage of international students of any previous classes. This is not surprising. International students typically pay full tuition, unlike QuestBridge and Posse students, who received full scholarships. As might be expected, the enrollment of international students and QuestBridge/Posse students track the performance of the college’s endowment. When Claremont is richer, it enrolls more full-scholarship Posse and QuestBridge students; when it’s poorer, it has more full-paying international students. In 2008, Claremont canceled its involvement with Posse for unstated reasons; in 2009 it canceled its involvement with QuestBridge for “financial considerations,” Vos told me via email on December 31, 2008.
The charts indicate that the scores for Claremont’s verbal and math SAT scores rose after 2009–the first year no Questbridge/Posse students were admitted.
- Critical Reading SAT Scores, Courtesy of The Claremont Portside
Gann wrote to the community on Monday that Claremont only increased SAT scores “were generally inflated by an average of 10-20 points each,” but it appears Vos engaged in systematic fraud. Though it’s unclear whether or not he acted alone, he manipulated the numbers to conceal year-to-year declines in SAT scores. He held average math scores constant at 700, rather than honestly reflecting their drop to 680 in 2006 and 2007. Sources close to the emergency faculty meeting that took place today confirm the fraud is more widespread than has been officially acknowledged and that in some years, Claremont admitted students who took no standardized tests at all.
Ever since Gann came to Claremont from Duke Law in 1999, she has stressed diversity. In 2004, she defended Kerri Dunn, a visiting psychology professor who faked a hate crime against herself and her car (Dunn was imprisoned for insurance fraud).
- Kerri Dunn at a Claremont McKenna rally
That incident got national attention. Gann pledged an independent investigation, though none took place. After Dunn’s hoax and the racial animus it stirred up, she bemoaned the low numbers of black undergraduates (then 4% of 1,052 students) and minority tenure-track professors to the St. Petersburg Times in 2004 and promised to fix the numbers.
There have always been grounds to challenge the college’s affirmative action policy. The Claremont Independent, the college’s conservative newspaper that I once edited, first reported that the college had been discriminating on racial lines in November 2006. “Statistics provided by the admissions office show that it admitted roughly 45% of both black and Hispanic applicants, vs. 22% of the white applicants and 17% of Asian applicants,” we wrote. Vos denied that such a racial agenda exists, but in 1999, Vos criticized the anti-racial preference Proposition 209 ballot measured passed by California voters. “Why would we change our policies?” he rhetorically asked when questioned whether Claremont would also be racially neutral. “We’ve always had a commitment to affirmative action, and now because some students perceive that the University of California system is perhaps not as welcoming as it was a few years ago, more students are now thinking of going to the private [colleges]. The UC’s loss is our gain.” In fact, prior to Gann, Claremont argued that “there is no clear linkage between educational quality and diversity,” according to a Nov. 1993 letter to an accrediting agency. (Page 115, The Ups and Downs of Affirmative Action Preferences by M. Ali Raza, A. Janell Anderson, and Harry Glynn Custred.
Since Vos’s resignation, Claremont has scrubbed all mention of him from its website, in a manner similar to its communication director’s handling of Bassam Frangieh, a pro-terrorist professor, which Joel Pollak, Breitbart’s editor-in-chief, documented in March 2011.
The scandal continues. Only twenty-four hours after the scandal broke, over 1,000 newspapers, magazines, and websites have picked it up, though many students are downplaying it, arguing that perhaps Claremont ought to exit the rankings altogether, which is akin to arguing that one shouldn’t have taken a class after being caught cheating.
Gann has made the college rankings front and center of her tenure at Claremont, explicitly encouraging donations to game the rankings. Her Fall 2003 fundraising letter explains that alumni giving “demonstrate[s] overall alumni satisfaction…[and] plays an important role in advancing the reputation of CMC, including the U.S. News & World Report college rankings.” The college has set a “new goal” to increase alumni donations from 50% to 55% over the next five years. “This goal not only will place us within the range of Williams, Swarthmore, and Amherst colleges–the top three liberal arts institutions as ranked by U.S. News–but will also secure a position that is superior to every national university in the country except Princeton,” she wrote.
But Vos’s cheating and prompt resignation–and Gann’s failure to monitor him–have many alumni wondering how deep the fraud goes and whether Gann should go, too. Claremont’s motto is “civilization prospers with commerce,” but commerce demands honesty and integrity, not games and fraud.
Hannah Burak CMC ’13 contributed to this report. The author is CMC ’11.