Temple University, one of the region's most essential institutions of higher education, is embroiled in a scandal that it could have avoided if its moral compass had been stronger than its drive to compete for students.
To attract applicants, Temple's Fox Business School goosed up data about its online MBA program to take a top ranking from the U.S. News and World Report's best colleges report last year. It reported that all of its 255 new students submitted GMAT scores; later, it admitted the truth — it was actually 50, or 19.6 percent. (U.S. News penalizes schools if fewer than 75 percent submit scores.) It also misrepresented the amount of debt that students graduate with, which is important for those students using the guide to choose colleges that offer high-value educations at lower costs than comparable schools.
But even after Temple admitted the data were flawed and U.S. News knocked the online MBA program off its list, the business school bragged to potential applicants that it was at the top of the heap.
The first sign of trouble came in 2013, when Dean Moshe Porat disbanded a committee that checked the school's data. It set off alarms among some in the school, but they weren't loud enough to drown out the pressure Temple felt to market itself.
In the wake of this scandal, Temple has made some good moves. In January, when the data problems were discovered, the university hired the Jones Day law firm to investigate. In July, the firm came back with a scathing report, and President Richard Englert removed Porat as dean of the business school.
Some students are suing because they say the scandal devalues their $60,000 degrees. And Attorney General Josh Shapiro is investigating because the state helps support Temple.
Going forward, the university promises to audit its data, not just at the business school but also other departments, none of which have come under suspicion.
That's good, but Temple's behavior is part of a disturbing national trend. Universities are not doing enough to curtail skyrocketing costs, and instead, compete relentlessly for students, who take on expensive loans. The students, in turn, leave college with so much debt that they delay participating fully in the economy.
That's why it is essential that universities rein in costs, including rock-star salaries for administrators. Temple, for example, paid former president Neil Theobald $1.38 million in 2017, making him the nation's fourth-highest-paid college president, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Temple's unrestrained competition, including plans to build a football stadium in a neighborhood that doesn't seem to want it, has hurt its reputation. The trouble at Temple is especially concerning not only as the school has grown in size and stature, but because Temple holds a special status in this region in its promotion of higher education for all. Because of that, it must get back to the basics of selling what it really has going for it: a high-value education.