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January 28, 2013

Bucknell acknowledges inflating average SAT scores

PHILADELPHIA — Enrollment officials at Bucknell University, a selective liberal arts school in central Pennsylvania, inflated students’ average SAT scores over the past several years, the school’s president said.

Mean SAT results for incoming freshmen were overstated by an average of 16 points between 2006 and 2012, according to President John Bravman. The motive behind the misrepresentation is unclear, he said, though college entrance exam scores often figure into national rankings.

“These numerical omissions, as relatively small as they were, violated the trust of every student, faculty member, staff member and Bucknellian they reached,” he wrote Friday in a letter to the university community.

Bravman, who took office in 2010, attributed the inaccurate figures to officials who no longer work at Bucknell. The discrepancies were uncovered by a new enrollment administrator who noticed the next admissions class had average scores about 20 points lower than its predecessor.

An inquiry revealed that the scores of 13 to 47 students were omitted from the SAT calculation in each of the past seven years. That resulted in reported averages 7 to 25 points higher than they actually were, the president said.

The university did not disclose its actual or inflated mean scores. But Bucknell’s website, which Bravman said is now accurate, cites incoming scores for current freshmen as ranging between 1,200 and 1,390 out of a possible 1,600.

The school also underreported its average ACT score by one point during the same period, Bravman noted.

U.S. News & World Report placed Bucknell 32nd among national liberal arts colleges for 2013, while giving it top 10 rankings for its undergraduate engineering programs.

U.S. News drops a college from its rankings if falsified data improved that school’s position, according to its website. The school is restored “when it has provided assurances that the data it is providing are accurate,” the site says.

Bucknell has given U.S. News corrected data, Bravman said.

In the past year, four other colleges have acknowledged misreporting data to U.S. News, including Claremont McKenna, George Washington, Emory and Tulane’s business school.

Bucknell enrolls about 3,600 students on its campus in Lewisburg, about 150 miles northeast of Philadelphia.

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