Essay says data in White House Scorecard is lacking

As president of University of Phoenix, I am instinctively guided to support the principles of greater access to, and better analysis of, data and information. That holds particularly true in the case of data that can help prospective students make informed choices about higher education.

So the White House’s newly released College Scorecard -- and its attendant torrent of new data on colleges -- should be a welcome move. It purports to contain a variety of information that assesses institutions on important metrics, including graduation rates and the income of graduates.

It is no secret, however, that the Scorecard has attracted widespread criticism, not least from my colleagues at large public universities, whose concerns I share regarding broader methodological flaws in it -- particularly the failure to include data on students who did not receive Title IV funds (data currently unavailable to the department under federal law). And even the data about Title IV recipients presents major challenges. They paint a skewed view of graduation rates that I believe does a particular disservice to students and prospective working adult learners -- the very people this tool should help.

Just taking University of Phoenix as an example, there is much for which my university can be proud. The data released includes findings ranking it sixth in the nation amongst large, private institutions (more than 15,000 students) in terms of the income of its graduates (and 24th among all large institutions, public and private). This adds to our institution’s latest draft three-year cohort default rate of 13.6, which is comparable to the national average.

But consider the methodology behind the graduation rates that the Scorecard cites -- arguably the most problematic flaw underlying it. For years now the U.S. Department of Education has relied on Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) graduation rates, which reflect only first-time, full-time undergraduate students. By any measure, the student population of America is more diverse than those who attend college full-time and complete it in a single shot. At the University of Phoenix, 60 percent of students in 2014 were first generation, and 76 percent were working -- 67 percent with dependents. These are the type of students labeled “nontraditional” by a Department of Education that has often talked of empowering them.

Yet for the purposes of the department’s graduation rates, these nontraditional students are effectively invisible, uncounted. In 2014, University of Phoenix’s institutional graduation rate for students with bachelor’s degrees was 42 percent. The department’s new Scorecard puts that figure at 20 percent. Our institutional rates demonstrate a higher rate of student success while IPEDS provides an incomplete picture of the university’s performance. In 2014, only 9.3 percent of my university’s students were first-time, full-time students as defined by IPEDS.

These graduation data would be troubling enough were it not for the fact that they are misinforming the same students that the Department of Education claims to be helping. For our graduates, the refusal to accurately calculate these data cheapens their legitimate and hard-earned academic achievements.

Reporting on the Scorecard, National Public Radio suggested that “what the government released … isn’t a scorecard at all -- it’s a data dump of epic proportions.” That is a correct assessment that speaks to the crux of the problem. More data, in this case, is not better. In open phone calls with reporters, department officials have acknowledged the limitations of their data, seemingly citing that very acknowledgment as license to publish them anyway. Yet no such acknowledgment is made clearly on the new Scorecard’s website, where students will access the information to make their decisions.

Now that the floodgate of institutional data has been opened, however, it is incumbent on all of us to improve it, contextualize it and help interpret it so prospective students can be appropriately informed by it. Responding to the Scorecard, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities called for “Congress through the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act to support a student-level data system for persistence, transfer, graduation and employment/income information to provide more complete data for all institutions.”

The University of Phoenix has long supported these principles and objectives -- not just in pushing for more complete data but also in making clear that the standards must be applied to all institutions of higher learning. We agree with both Republicans and Democrats who want to see more audit-ready data for every college and university so as to validate and verify the foundational basis upon which the department creates and enforces regulations that should be applied to all higher education institutions (last year’s gainful employment rules among them). More can be done to guard against potential political motivations in the presentation of public data.

For our part, University of Phoenix is also clear that we must improve student outcomes, as we generally have year over year. From significant investment in our core campuses to ensuring that first-time undergraduates complete a pathway diagnostic before enrolling in their first credit-bearing course, we are engaged in the work that will help us to continue improving those outcomes and, more generally, to transform into a better, more trusted institution.

In the year I have been president, I have met with thousands of our students and graduates -- the men and women who are the face of that nontraditional category. These are people who are achieving great academic success despite the other demands that contemporary life imposes. They are driven, ambitious, determined and hardworking. And they leave me in no doubt of two things: their success deserves to be appropriately recognized, and their successors deserve better information in picking a college. We can all play a role in securing these basic goals.

Timothy P. Slottow is president of University of Phoenix.

Kentucky For-Profit Settles with Former Students

Daymar College has agreed to pay a $1.2 million settlement to former students who sued the Kentucky, for-profit company for false job placement claims and fraud, according to The Louisville Courier-Journal

The settlement requires Daymar to pay $1.4 million to Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway's office. Students who attended the college in the five years ending July 27, 2011, would split the rest, while Conway's office will keep $200,000 to cover attorney's fees and to pay a claims administrator. The lawsuit had 413 private plaintiffs. 

In 2011, Conway charged the college with overcharging students for textbooks, misleading them about financial aid and failing to provide accurate information about the ability to transfer credit. 

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Purchase of Kaplan Campuses Finalized

Graham Holdings Company, which controls Kaplan Inc., announced Friday that the sale of its Kaplan Higher Education campuses to Education Corporation of America was completed Thursday, according to a corporate filing. ECA is a for-profit chain that announced in February it would purchase all 38 of the nationally accredited Kaplan campuses and related assets. Kaplan will continue to operate Kaplan University and eight professional schools.

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Sally Stroup to Leave For-Profit College Group

Sally Stroup will step down as executive vice president for government relations and legal counsel for the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities (APSCU), which is the for-profit industry's primary trade group. A spokesman for APSCU confirmed the group was "working on an appropriate transition" for the position.

Stroup is a veteran of higher education policy, having served in the U.S. Department of Education during the George W. Bush administration. She also spent 14 years on Capitol Hill, including an influential stint for the U.S. House of Representatives' Education and Workforce Committee in the 1990s. Between those chapters in her career, she worked for the Apollo Group, which owns the University of Phoenix.

APSCU is facing many of the same challenges as the sector it represents. Most of the publicly held chains have left the association during the last year. The group last month announced a restructuring, including a name change and return to focusing on its career-school roots.

ACLU May Sue Grand Canyon on Same-Sex Benefits

Grand Canyon University has received a letter from the Arizona branch of the American Civil Liberties Union about the for-profit institution's policy regarding employee benefits and same-sex spouses, according to a column in The Arizona Republic.

The university is a Christian-based institution. The letter from the ACLU Arizona legal director states, "On behalf of Grand Canyon University employees who have contacted our office about their denial of health insurance and other employee benefits based solely on their marriage to a person of the same sex … the denial of benefits to LGBT employees in same-sex marriages is in violation of federal law and severely harms those employees and their families."

The university is examining its policies.

"We are also proud of our record with regards to the diversity of both our student body and our employee base. To this point, like many employers, we have not provided marital benefits to same-sex partners. In light of recent Supreme Court and [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] rulings, we are currently evaluating those policies as part of our plan," said Bob Romantic, executive director of GCU's communications office, in an email.

GCU has been exploring a change in its status to a nonprofit institution. Last year, the university's chief executive officer incorporated a nonprofit organization, dubbed Gazelle University. And last month, documents were filed with the Internal Revenue Service to allow Gazelle to acquire GCU's real estate, which would allow the university to make that transition.

Some nonprofit Christian colleges fear they may lose their tax-exempt status by refusing to extend benefits to employees in same-sex relationships, although many others do not expect such a challenge.

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Push to Protect Students at Unaccredited Law Schools

The State Bar of California is moving toward adopting a rule to require unaccredited law schools to disclose their dropout rates, The Los Angeles Times reported. California is one of a few states to allow graduates of unaccredited law schools to take the bar exam. The move to require more disclosure from the unaccredited law schools follows a report in the newspaper that about 90 percent of students leave before finishing their programs.

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FTC Will Investigate Career Ed

Career Education Corporation disclosed Monday that it received a "civil investigative demand" from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission on Aug. 20, according to a corporate filing.

The federal agency's request requires Career Ed to provide documents and information from January 2010 to the present, and the investigation is to "determine whether unnamed persons, partnerships, corporations or others have engaged or are engaging in deceptive or unfair acts," related to advertising, marketing, or sale of educational products or accreditation services.

"The company is evaluating the request and intends to cooperate with the FTC," according to a statement within the filing. The FTC has sent similar investigative requests to DeVry Education Group and Apollo Education Group.

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CFPB investigates for-profit Ashford University's lending program

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The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is launching an investigation into Bridgepoint Education and Ashford University's student lending practices.

Retired NBA Players to Enroll in Kaplan University

Five retired NBA players are receiving scholarships to attend Kaplan University and study online to earn certificates, bachelor's or master's degrees.

The players -- Adonal Foyle, Joe Smith, James Donaldson, Kevin Loder and Eldridge Recasner -- received the scholarships during the National Basketball Retired Players Association annual conference in Las Vegas.

"Like most Kaplan University students, retired athletes are juggling a lot of competing responsibilities. They're older, raising families and also want to make a lasting difference not just in their own lives, but in the larger community," said Craig Collins, senior vice president of Kaplan University Corporate Development, in a news release. "So a university like Kaplan, which today is helping some 41,000 adult learners pursue their education and career goals, fits into their playbook, because of its convenience."

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California Attorney General Investigates U of Phoenix

Apollo Education Group said Friday that it is being investigated by California's attorney general, Kamala Harris. The inquiry relates to the University of Phoenix, which Apollo owns, and students who are veterans or members of the U.S. military or California National Guard, according to an Apollo corporate filing.

The investigation follows a broad information request last month from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, which is scrutinizing allegations of deceptive marketing by Phoenix. That investigation also includes the recruitment of military students.

Apollo last week released a written statement by retired Army Major General Spider Marks, who is executive dean of the Phoenix's College of Security & Criminal Justice. "The university’s practices relating to compliance, training and student support services for military students should, we believe and hope, serve as a model for all institutions, organizations and companies," Marks said.


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