Obama’s College Scorecard Incomplete

Hundreds of community colleges and other two-year schools are excluded from the scorecard because they award more certificates than degrees.

by Tom Fontaine, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review / September 23, 2015
(TNS) -- President Obama introduced a website this month that he said provides data about “every institution of higher learning,” but more than a dozen four-year schools — including Western Pennsylvania's Grove City College — aren't included because they don't participate in federal student loan programs.

Hundreds of community colleges and other two-year schools are excluded from the Education Department's College Scorecard because they award more certificates than degrees.

“We are concerned that Grove City's absence from the scorecard will confuse or disserve families seeking out higher education institutions with our record of success,” President Paul J. McNulty said. McNulty said the website should include a disclaimer indicating that the College Scorecard “is not comprehensive or reflective of all colleges and universities.”

An Education Department spokeswoman didn't say if the agency would do so.

Schools excluded from the Scorecard include conservative and religious colleges, including Christian seminaries, Bible colleges and at least one Jewish Talmudical seminary. Some reject federal aid because they don't want to be bound by federal mandates, but critics of the schools' omission say the government could be putting them at a competitive disadvantage.

College Scorecard has faced criticism before. Some school presidents complained two years ago when Obama said the Education Department would develop a rating system for the nation's colleges and universities to “help families make smart decisions about where to enroll.”

Obama abandoned the ratings system. Instead, the easy-to-use website features a snapshot of a school's average costs, financial aid and student debt, graduation and retention rates, earnings after graduation, student body size, SAT/ACT scores and academic programs. Users can click on a button to apply for federal grants and loans.

“Americans will now have access to reliable data on every institution of higher education,” Obama said in his Sept. 12 radio address.

But Education Department spokeswoman Denise Horn said Tuesday: “As of now, institutions that do not participate in Title IV federal financial aid (programs) are not included on the site because they are not required to send us data.”

Grove City left the federal government's student loan program in 1996 and established its own financial aid system, used by about 56 percent of its students. Its tuition is $16,154 a year. The national average for private school tuition in 2014-15 was $31,231, according to the New York-based nonprofit College Board.

“I think the federal government is making a mistake. It can't fathom schools not accepting federal financing aid. Their world revolves around schools accepting it,” California-based education technology consultant Phil Hill said, noting federal funding comes with federal reporting requirements.

Likewise, only schools that “award predominantly two- or four-year degrees” are included, Horn said. Hill found at least 700 two-year schools, including at least 250 public community colleges, are excluded from the Scorecard because they award more certificates than associate's degrees.

“We are working to add other schools that award primarily certificates, but that offer at least one associate's or bachelor's degree, as quickly as possible,” Horn said.

Grove City, a school of 2,500 students 60 miles north of Pittsburgh, is No. 134 among liberal arts colleges in U.S. News & World Report's latest college rankings. Also absent from the Scorecard are Michigan's Hillsdale College (No. 67), the adult degree program at Oregon's Linfield College (No. 120) and Illinois' Principia College (No. 127).

Hillsdale refuses state and federal aid and does not participate in the federal government's Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, which requires schools to track and report students' racial demographics. Hillsdale, west of Detroit, has 1,500 students.

“The college is confident that parents and students looking for a rigorous, classical liberal arts education will find Hillsdale College without the federal government's help,” the college wrote in a statement.

Wyoming Catholic College President Kevin D. Roberts said he is “not overly concerned” about his 150-student school being omitted.

“We're distinctive enough in what we offer,” Roberts said, referring to its required horsemanship course and 21-day backpacking expedition in addition to studies in theology, humanities, math and science, philosophy and Latin. “I think it's unacceptable that the federal government would limit the review to colleges and universities that receive federal aid, but the federal government shouldn't be involved in higher education as it is.”

©2015 The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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