For North Carolina Central University, the news was gratifying. Known for its ability to transform disadvantaged students into successful professionals, NCCU welcomed the national publicity and recognition. So when Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine placed the institution at No. 49 on its list of the 100 best values in public colleges, the press releases started flying.
"We released the information to our local and national media contacts, a total of 60 media outlets, and we put an article on our Web site," says Sharon Saunders, Chancellor James Ammons' special assistant for public relations. NCCU's student newspaper, ran the story on its front page, and an article appeared in the Durham Herald-Sun.
Administrators on other campuses were mounting similar publicity campaigns as a result of their positions on the list, but for NCCU and two other historically Black institutions, the rankings were especially significant. For the first time in Kiplinger's six years of compiling the list, three historically Black colleges and universities appeared in its Top 100. North Carolina A&T State University was ranked 94, and Elizabeth City (N.C.) State was 96.
The schools were basking in the publicity surrounding the rankings--until they received letters from Kiplinger's Personal Finance editor Fred W. Frailey informing them it was all a mistake. The letters were dated Oct. 17, 2002, weeks after the issue went into circulation.
"Unfortunately, despite our intentions, mistakes do occur," Frailey's letter stated. "... We uncovered an error in our computerized scoring process that allowed six schools, including yours, to avoid elimination in our original criteria for reported standardized test scores."
The other schools were not mentioned in the letter, but Kiplinger's later released the names of two of them--Montclair State University (84) and California State University at Fresno (54), both of which have significant Black and Hispanic enrollment. North Carolina Central, at 49, was ranked highest among those removed from the list.
The sixth university that was slated to be excised from the list remained a secret--because after further review it was allowed to remain on the list.
According to the article, the magazine received its data from Wintergreen/Orchard House, a division of Riverside Publishing "which gathers statistics each year on more than 600 four-year public colleges and universities around the country." Frailey explained in his letters to the schools that the minimum threshold should have been an average combined SAT score of 1030. The schools were told that their 2001 freshman SAT scores fell below the threshold, and that they should not have made the first cut.
Brian Knestout, associate editor and writer of the Top 100 article, said the rankings "are two-thirds quality and one-third cost. We're trying to provide a tool for people looking for value and quality. …