Former Temple University business dean convicted of wire fraud in rankings scandal

Dive Brief: 

  • Temple University’s former business school dean was found guilty of submitting fraudulent data to U.S. News & World Report to boost the institution’s rankings, prosecutors announced Monday
  • Moshe Porat, 74, was dean of the Philadelphia university’s Richard J. Fox School of Business and Management from 1996 to 2018. Prosecutors said that from 2014 to 2018, Porat conspired with two other business school employees to submit false information about the university’s online and part-time master’s of business administration programs. 
  • The false information catapulted Temple’s online MBA program into the No. 1 slot in the U.S. News rankings for four years, from 2015 to 2018. The part-time MBA program, meanwhile, rose from No. 53 in 2014 to No. 7 in 2017. 

Dive Insight: 

The scheme became a national scandal in 2018, when Temple revealed its business school had submitted false data to U.S. News for years as a way to move up in the rankings. 

An investigation by an outside law firm hired by the university found the business school had misreported several metrics that affected the rankings, including the average undergraduate GPA of admitted students and the number of admissions offers extended to applicants. The law firm also found fraudulent data was reported about other Temple programs, including master’s degrees in human resources and marketing. 

The university ousted Porat that summer, and U.S. News moved the online MBA to an unranked category in 2018. The business school was entirely unranked the next year as well, as it chose to be withdrawn from consideration. 

Prosecutors said Monday that Porat boasted about the business school’s rankings in marketing materials directed at potential applicants. Enrollment in Temple’s online and part-time MBA programs subsequently skyrocketed, leading to millions of dollars in increased tuition revenue. 

The jury found Porat guilty of one count of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. 

“Moshe Porat misrepresented information about Fox’s application and acceptance process, and therefore about the student-body itself, in order to defraud the rankings system, potential students, and donors,” U.S. Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams said in a statement. “This case was certainly unusual, but at its foundation it is just a case of fraud and underlying greed.” 

The scheme reveals the extent to which popular college rankings can affect the choices of students, who often rely on the lists to help them narrow down where they want to apply. Although colleges often attempt to move up U.S. News rankings by improving their metrics, critics say the lists merely reward selectivity. 

The scandal also exposed that the rankings are largely based on self-reported data, said Robert Kelchen, a higher ed professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. 

“The data are only as good as the people reporting it,” he said. “And there can be both honest mistakes in reporting — just typos — and mistakes that are not honest.” 

Porat faces a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison followed by three years of supervised release, according to a Justice Department announcement of his indictment in April. He also could be fined up to $500,000. He does not yet have a sentencing date, a Justice Department spokesperson said in an email. 

The two other former Temple employees involved in the scheme, business professor Isaac Gottlieb and accounting manager Marjorie O’Neill, each pleaded guilty earlier this year to a count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, The New York Times reported. They each face a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $500,000 fine.  O’Neill’s sentencing is scheduled for December, while Gottlieb’s is scheduled for March, an agency spokesperson said. 

Temple University has dealt with the scandal’s fallout for years. In 2018, the university settled a class-action lawsuit brought by students by agreeing to pay those who had enrolled in affected programs nearly $5.5 million. 

The university also consented the next year to fund $250,000 in scholarships for its business school students as part of a settlement with the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office. And it agreed in 2020 to pay $700,000 to the U.S. Department of Education to settle all potential legal claims stemming from the scandal. 

Temple did not immediately respond to Higher Ed Dive’s request for comment Tuesday. 

The university isn’t the only institution whose officials have sent incorrect metrics to U.S. News. After the scandal erupted, at least eight other schools told the publication they had misreported data used to calculate the 2018 rankings. Claremont McKenna College, a selective liberal arts school in California, likewise admitted in 2012 that it had submitted incorrect SAT scores to publications with college rankings. 

To catch misreported data, the rankings could be audited for quality or there could be a process to check for large annual changes, said Kelchen, who is also the data manager for Washington Monthly’s college rankings. 

“But auditing is expensive and checking for changes can be time-consuming,” he said.

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