College Scorecard: ED quietly adds in 700 missing colleges

It’s worth giving credit where credit is due, and the US Department of Education (ED) has fixed a problem that Russ Poulin and I pointed out where they had previously left ~700 colleges out of the College Scorecard.

When the College Scorecard was announced, Russ noticed a handful of missing schools. When I did the whole data OCD thing, I discovered that more than 700 2-year institutions were missing, including nearly 1-in-4 community colleges. Eventually we published an article in the Washington Post describing this (and other) problems.

The missing community colleges were excluded on purely statistical grounds. If the college granted more certificates (official awards of less than a degree) than degrees in a year, then they were excluded as they were not “primarily degree-granting” institutions. We label this the “Brian Criterion” after the person authoring two discussion board posts that explained this undocumented filter.

This was a statistical decision because it affects graduation rates, but leaves the student wondering why so many colleges cannot be found. Consider Front Range Community College in Colorado with 1,673 associate’s degrees granted in 2012-13. Because they also awarded 1,771 certificates, the Scorecard filters them out from the consumer website.

Largely due to their community-serving mission, community colleges and other two-year institutions were primarily affected. By our calculations, approximately one in three two-year colleges were excluded (more than 700), including approximately one in four community colleges (more than 250).

It is ironic that the most-penalized institutions were community colleges and those innovating with interim certificates and stackable credentials in particular; indeed, the White House has been explicitly promoting both of these groups.

We never heard from the ED officially but had some backchannel communications from others that there were some fixes being considered.

On Wednesday I got a message from the infamous Brian on a Stack Exchange thread letting me know that ED had changed their approach.

The Department recently added institutions to the consumer site such that institutions that predominantly award certificates (PREDDEG=1) are included IF the highest degree is at least an Associate’s (HIGHDEG>=2 ) AND the institution offers an associate’s or bachelor’s degree (CIPxxASSOC>0 OR CIPxxBACHL>0)

In English, this means that the ED took out their artificial criterion and fixed this issue. Colleges that award degrees no longer get excluded from the College Scorecard because they award even more certificates.

Poulin Hill College Scorecard Graphic Updated

It was a little tricky verifying the fix, as they have also changed how the College Scorecard classifies schools. Previously they let the user filter on associate’s programs, leading to institutions that predominantly award associate’s degrees. Now the scorecard will show you all institutions that award associate’s degrees. So the checksum activity must be done at a higher level. Low and behold, the count of public institutions in the Scorecard approximately matches the count from IPEDS. I also did spot checks on a dozen institutions that had previously been missing, and they are now in the Scorecard.

The other issues in the Washington Post article remain, but this headline problem has been fixed, but very quietly. I cannot find any announcement or release notes from ED, just this one line in their release notes:

Update national statistics to include certificate schools

So consider this blog post as the official ED press release, I guess. Thanks for fixing.

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About Phil Hill

Phil is a consultant and industry analyst covering the educational technology market primarily for higher education. He has written for e-Literate since Aug 2011. For a more complete biography, view his profile page.
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