The Impact of Campus Scandals on College Applications

by Michael Luca, Patrick Rooney, and Jonathan Smith

Overview — This paper explores the prevalence and impact of negative incidents at top United States colleges covered in the media, looking at data from 2001 through 2013. During this period, the authors identified 124 widely covered scandals. Scandals lead to large reductions in applications; a scandal covered in a long-form article has roughly the same impact on applications as a 10-ranking drop in the influential US News and World Report College Rankings.

Author Abstract

In recent years, there have been a number of high profile scandals on college campuses, ranging from cheating to hazing to rape. With so much information regarding a college’s academic and nonacademic attributes available to students, how do these scandals affect their applications? To investigate, we construct a dataset of scandals at the top 100 United States universities between 2001 and 2013. Scandals with a high level of media coverage significantly reduce applications. For example, a scandal covered in a long-form news article leads to a 10 percent drop in applications the following year. This is roughly the same as the impact on applications of dropping 10 spots in the US News and World Report college rankings. Moreover, colleges react to scandals--the probability of another incident in the subsequent years falls--but this effect dissipates within five years. Combined, these results suggest important demand-side and supply-side responses to incidents with negative media coverage.

Paper Information