The “College Scorecard” gets an incomplete grade

February 13, 2013

During last night’s State of the Union address, President Obama announced that the Department of Education’s College Scorecard would be made available this morning. If you’re not familiar, this consumer information piece has been in the works for over a year, and includes data points for all federal financial aid eligible institutions in the United States. This interactive tool allows potential students to search by school; as well as characteristics such as majors, location, and enrollment size; and returns five data points that were gathered by the Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

While Capella University wholeheartedly supports data collection, transparency and outcomes measurements, we don’t believe that the metrics presented on the College Scorecard provide information that is representative of many of today’s college students. For example, the data returned for Capella’s graduation rate is 0%. This information would likely come as a surprise to the more than 30,000 Capella graduates across the country. The reality is that the data feeding the College Scorecard represents only first-time, full-time undergraduate students who graduate from the same school they first attended (no transfers). At Capella, where the vast majority of our learners are working adults in graduate programs and/or bring in transfer credit in our undergraduate programs, IPEDS indicates that our graduation rate represents “0% of entering students.” In fact, this year Capella has exactly one student who meets the first-time full-time definition today. While there is a qualification next to the graduation rate information, it is still misleading to prospective students.

Over the years, Capella has raised this issue with the Department of Education and urged them to consider gathering and publishing data points that make sense for the country’s ever changing mix of students in higher education. Last year they made the exciting announcement that starting this year, IPEDS data collection will consider part-time undergraduate students. This still is not representative of Capella’s total population and provides little value to prospective students who wish to obtain accurate data about the schools they are considering. For those interested, Capella University’s institutional graduation rate is around 50%.

These consumer information pieces are a step in the right direction, but do a disservice to schools like Capella that serves a primarily non-traditional population of students. We will continue working with the Department of Education to develop and enhance their data collection and dissemination tools so that they more accurately reflect America’s student population. In the meantime, anyone looking for data on Capella’s outcomes can visit our website capellaresults.org.

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