Forbes Fantasies: Why Hillsdale College is not in the College Scorecard (hint, boring reasons)

Richard Vedder wrote a particularly uninformed article in Forbes on Friday about the Education Department (ED) not including Hillsdale College in the new College Scorecard. Freed from the burden of facts or research, Vedder let loose the dogs of conspiracy [emphasis in original].

The Obama Administration, with much hype, released its College Scorecard recently, designed to help students find the college that best fits their interest. The Scorecard includes some interesting information, such as data on student repayment of college loan debt, the average post-graduate earnings, et cetera. But as we delve more into it, something arguably sinister is revealed: the Scorecard excludes mention of several prominent colleges with a conservative or traditional academic orientation.

Vedder then speculates that the reasons for the omission are A) Hillsdale not accepting any form of federal financial assistance and the associated regulations and B) Hillsdale having a conservative orientation. At the end of the short post Vedder comes back to reality.

It may be my sinister thinking is unwarranted, that there were reasons unrelated to ideology or refusal to accept financial aid that figure in the exclusion of these schools. But even so, they are legitimate, even accredited, educational institutions, and their exclusion diminishes the utility and the perceived integrity of the new Scorecard.

Would that Richard of the First Paragraph would talk to Richard of the Last Paragraph before posting, because Richard the Last got it right. The sinister thinking is unwarranted.

Last week Russ Poulin was the first person I read who noted the missing colleges in the new College Scorecard. I subsequently did some research (with additional pointers from Russ) and discovered the “Brian criteria”:

In particular, the Education Department (ED) is using a questionable method of determining whether an institution is degree-granting rather than relying on the IPEDS data source. In a nutshell, if an institution awarded more certificates than degrees, then it is not labeled as “predominantly awarded 2-year or 4-yeard degrees” and therefore excluded.

I even noted in the last article that fully one in three two-year institutions are excluded from the Scorecard even though they are degree-granting institutions.

Since I care about quality journalism, here are a few suggestions for Forbes’ editors to get to the underlying facts.

Listen to ED Spokesperson

Richard Vedder was not the first person to write about the Hillsdale College exclusion, as his article came out 9/18 at 1:35pm. I have no idea if he saw these two earlier articles or not since he included no references or links.

In the Collegian, there was an answer provided which confirms the Brian criteria above:

“Hillsdale does offer bachelor’s degrees,” Denise Horn, assistant press secretary for the U.S. Department of Education, told the Collegian. “However, because the plurality of degrees it awards are certificates, not two-year or four-year degrees, it was not included on the Scorecard at launch.”

Update 9/22: It should be noted, however, that the IPEDS instructions for reporting certificates is as follows:

Formal awards conferred by the institution as the result of completion of an academic or occupational program of study. The instructional activity completed as part of the program of study must be credit-bearing, but can be measured in credit hours, contact hours, or some other unit of measurement.

The certificates that Hillsdale College awards are for their online program which is not credit-bearing. Think of it as outreach or public service. Therefore, Horn’s ED statement is incorrect in the case of Hillsdale College as they do not report any formal certificates.

The main point of this blog post still applies (missing from source data sets, not a conservative enemies list as Vedder states). I apologize for not catching this mistake.

Not In Source Data Sets

But it turns out that Hillsdale College is not only missing from the College Scorecard website, it is also missing from the underlying data dump. This is due to it not being in the two source data used for the Scorecard.

  • Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS): Hillsdale does not collect or report any data on student race, ethnicity, etc and does not accept Title IV funding; therefore Hillsdale is not listed in IPEDS.
  • National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS): Since Hillsdale does not accept any form of federal financial aid or funding, none of its students’ data will appear in NSLDS.

A simple Google search uncovers the following statement:

This institution does not report to IPEDS but was added to the Classification Universe based on institution request.

In other words, Hillsdale College administrators are fully aware that they are not listed in IPEDS. I suspect that Richard Vedder already knows this to be true based on his understanding of the following:

I think the real reason for exclusion is two-fold. First, Hillsdale does not accept any form of federal financial assistance, and thus escapes the regulatory clutches of the Department of Education. It voluntarily offers to provide some data, but refuses to even collect data on race, which the Department insists on having.

I applaud Hillsdale College for being consistent – not reporting data they don’t collect but also not accepting any form of federal financial assistance, which is their right as a private college. But this public lack of aid and lack of reporting has impacts on federal government data listings.

30 – 60 Minutes Can Go A Long Way

Alas, the answers are quite boring, at least compared to sinister plots by the White House or the ED. Hillsdale College is not in the source IPEDS and NLSDS data sets, and even if they were, they do not pass the arbitrary Brian criteria (# degrees > # certificates) applied to all institutions.

I certainly fault the ED for releasing the Scorecard and underlying data dumps with such glaring omissions – remember, one in three two-year schools are excluded. I also fault the ED for using the misleading first-time full-time graduation rate as a centerpiece of reporting – see this post for an example of how misleading that data is. I will also note that any schools with similar philosophies as Hillsdale – not wanting to be tangled up with federal regulations – will also be excluded if they are not in IPEDS or NSLDS data sources. I am in complete agreement with this part of Richard Vedder’s post:

But even so, they are legitimate, even accredited, educational institutions, and their exclusion diminishes the utility and the perceived integrity of the new Scorecard.

But that is a far cry from sinister views that the White House or ED is actively trying to exclude schools of a particular political viewpoint. It took me approximately 20 minutes to look up and find the actual answers to why Hillsdale College is not represented in the College Scorecard. Let’s pretend that I am an obsessed individual and that others might take 30 or 60 minutes to do the same. Journalists should spend some time doing research on their topics, and editors of national publications (Forbes, Daily Caller) should apply some standards to their articles.

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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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