A senior administrator at Claremont McKenna College resigned after acknowledging that he falsified college entrance exam scores for years to publications responsible for ranking the small school among universities, an official said.
An investigation was launched after inaccuracies were detected in the SAT scores reported for the class entering in fall 2011, college president Pamela B. Gann told staff members and students in an email message on Monday.
The senior admissions official took sole responsibility for falsifying scores sent since 2005 to publications such as U.S. News & World Report, she said. The name of the official was not released.
"As an institution of higher education with a deep and consistent commitment to the integrity of all our academic activities, and particularly our reporting of institutional data, we take this situation very seriously," Gann said.
No one at the college has explained what would drive the senior administrator at such a prestigious institution to falsify the figures.
However, college admissions experts said the incident came amid growing competition among students to win acceptance to a top school and among colleges to lure top students.
Claremont McKenna, located in a small town 30 miles east of Los Angeles, is currently ranked by U.S. News & World Report as the ninth-best liberal arts college in the country.
The 1,200-student campus places a strong academic focus on political science and economics, and boasts graduates including actor Robin Williams and U.S. Rep. David Dreier.
The school said reading and math SAT scores were each inflated by an average of 10 or 20 points. For example, the school reported a median SAT score of 1410 instead of 1400 for the fall 2010 entering class, Gann said.
The college has hired a law firm to conduct an independent review of its admissions-related data processes and has been reaching out to agencies that use the data ranging from education publications to Moody's to set the record straight, said Max Benavidez, a spokesman for the school.
"We're not hiding anything," he said. "We're the ones volunteering to tell people what took place and what we're doing to fix it."
U.S. News & World Report will not change its current rankings but will evaluate the impact of the falsification on the school's profile, said Robert J. Morse, director of data research for the publication. These scores have a weight of 7.5 percent in determining a school's ranking.
"It could affect it in a small amount _ not a large amount," Morse said.
Morse said he has seen schools misreport or falsify data to ranking publications and credit rating agencies, but it isn't common.
On Tuesday, dozens of comments flooded the website of Claremont McKenna's student newspaper. Some readers argued that small fluctuations in test scores indicate nothing about a school. Others bemoaned the impact of the incident on the college's reputation and called for greater accountability from the administration.
Aditya Pai, vice president of the school's student government association, said the incident has disheartened students.
"We are disappointed that an administrator exaggerated credentials that need no exaggeration," Pai said in a statement. "However, his actions do not reflect the strength of our community, the excellence of our education, or the caliber of our people."
A message left at the home of a former dean of admissions identified by the Los Angeles Times as having recently left his job at the college was not immediately returned. The school announced Tuesday that Georgette DeVeres, associate vice president for admission and financial aid, would become the interim head of the college's admission and financial aid office.
Joyce Smith, chief executive of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, said the admissions process has grown even more intense in recent years because more students are college bound and they are filing a much higher number of applications due to the ease of submitting paperwork online.
That has colleges working hard to persuade students to attend after they've been accepted at more than one institution, she said.
"We do have some concerns about how this process is going so far out of kilter for parents and students, as well as counselors who feel under siege and colleges who in every little marketing thing, every little new widget (are) trying to communicate with students and get their attention," she said. "The whole landscape has changed."