The Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office launched a probe Friday into allegations that Temple University's business school knowingly provided false data over several years to improve its rankings and lure more applicants.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro directed the office's Bureau of Consumer Protection to examine the case, including Temple's business and marketing practices, to determine whether the false numbers were limited to the Fox School of Business and if any laws were broken.
"My job is to ensure students and their families receive the benefit of the bargain when they make significant expenditures to advance their education," Shapiro said in a letter to Temple president Richard M. Englert. "It is especially troubling to learn that an institution entrusted with significant commonwealth funding to educate our citizens is alleged to have so flagrantly violated the trust of students, families and taxpayers alike."
Shapiro told Englert to expect "a detailed demand for information" from his office next week.
"The university has been open and transparent in discussing its findings," Temple spokesperson Kevin Feeley said, "and will continue to be open and transparent in providing the information as we receive it."
The attorney general is the latest to announce a review of the matter, which became public this week when Temple ousted its business school dean and released findings from a university-commissioned investigation that the school, sometimes knowingly, submitted false data to U.S. News and World Report about its online M.B.A. program.
The magazine dropped Temple's online M.B.A. from its rankings in January after the school self-reported that problems were discovered. The program had been ranked No. 1 for the previous four years. The investigation by the Jones Day law firm also found that the problem was not limited to the online M.B.A., but did not specify which other Fox programs were involved.
Since then, the fallout has been mounting. U.S. News and World Report has asked that Temple provide letters certifying the accuracy of data for all of its programs that are ranked, including those outside the business school, and on Wednesday, two accrediting agencies said they, too, were reviewing the matter.
Several students are suing, alleging they had been defrauded, and some faculty members have said they are saddened and upset.
"Moving forward, it's critical that students and alumni alike have confidence in the value of their degree or certification from Temple University," Shapiro said in the letter to Englert.
The attorney general hasn't received any outside complaints on the matter, according to the office.
The office will look at whether Temple violated the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law. The school could face civil penalties, including restitution to victims, if found in violation.
Temple this week announced it would hire an external auditor to review Fox rankings data, spot-check other programs at the university, and take other steps to ensure the integrity of its data.
The online M.B.A. has been a major money-maker for the business school. More than 300 students are enrolled in the program, which charges about $60,000 a student and has grown considerably in recent years. The Fox school touts an enrollment of more than 9,000 and has more than 200 full-time faculty.
The former business dean, Moshe Porat, 71, has not returned calls for comment. He refused to resign when asked by the president and the provost, and was forced out.
The Temple business school, the Jones Day report said, employed a "rankings-focused strategy," which contributed to inaccurate reporting of data.
"Moreover, the dean's focus on rankings, coupled with his personal management style, caused Fox personnel who interacted with the dean on ranking-related matters to feel pressure to perform in this regard," the report said.