Via Inside Higher Ed, a few days ago Faculty and College Excellent (a campaign run by the American Federation of Teachers) posted an item about some claims made by colleges for U.S. News ranking purposes that are, well, suspicious:

The majority of top colleges report well over 80 percent of their faculty are full-time and a large number report that well over 90 percent of their faculty are full-time. University of Nebraska-Lincoln even reports that 100 percent of its faculty are full-time. Amazing!

This, of course, at a time when colleges tend to be shifting their teaching loads onto adjuncts and graduate assistants. It just doesn’t add up.

The post deconstructs Nebraska-Lincolns remarkable claim and finds it to be simply false:

[H]ere is the instructional staff data on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. What you see is that in the Fall of 2007, Nebraska reported that they have 1,539 full-time faculty (a third of which are not on the tenure-track) and 401 part-time faculty. Now I was an English major, but my math tells me that means that only 79 percent of the faculty is full-time.

Now the U.S. News data are for 2008, but I am going to guess they didn’t convert to 100 percent full time faculty in one year’s time, particularly given that the ten-year trend data in the Data Center shows a slight increase in part-time faculty as a proportion of the whole.

The crux of this issue, as is so often the case, is that many aspects of the U.S. News college rankings are far too easily gamed:

The real point here is why is this statistic included in the rankings? Surely it is because it is intended to show that these top colleges are investing in those that parents and students assume are responsible for their education, but clearly readers of U.S. News are not getting the full story. To do that they are going to have ask for more information about who is teaching undergraduates at the colleges they are considering and how well the college supports those faculty members and instructors.

It certainly seems, based on some other shenanigans we’ve seen, that U.S. News suffers from a bit of a credulousness problem when it comes to its rankings.

Jesse Singal

Jesse Singal is a former opinion writer for The Boston Globe and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. He is currently a master's student at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Policy. Follow him on Twitter at @jessesingal.