USC Sued Over Ranking Inflation at School of Education

Three former students of the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California sued the university shortly before Christmas. Rossier has worked with a company called 2U to promote its online education programs in exchange for a percentage of the tuition revenue. The lawsuit explains that Rossier and 2U provided incomplete and “cherry-picked” information to U.S. News & World Report. (USNWR is the most influential set of rankings for educational institutions.) This allegedly resulted in a ranking higher than the ranking that Rossier would have received if USNWR had gotten the appropriate information.

The lawsuit was filed as a class action in a Los Angeles court. This means that USC and 2U could be on the hook for compensation not only to the three students who sued but also to other current and former students at Rossier. The plaintiffs seek reimbursement for tuition and other costs, pointing out that Rossier advertised its USNWR rankings online as a means of justifying the high cost attached to enrolling there. One of the plaintiffs asserts that she would not have chosen Rossier, considering the cost, if it had not received such a high USNWR ranking. The lawsuit also alleges that the partnership between Rossier and 2U may be illegal. The company strongly pushed back against this argument, stating that federal law and the U.S. Department of Education allow these bundled-services agreements. Both USC and 2U plan to fight the lawsuit vigorously.

Rossier withdrew from the USNWR rankings this spring after the inaccurate reporting came to light. The law firm Jones Day, which serves as outside counsel for USC, conducted an investigation and submitted a report in April with further details. About a week before the students sued, Rossier permanently withdrew from the rankings. This latest decision did not arise from the inaccuracies, though. Rossier instead claims that it permanently withdrew because the USNWR methodology does not reward its efforts to advance access, equity, and diversity in education.

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