Amid much discussion of the recently released College Scorecard issued by the Department of Education, I want to weigh in with a bit of practical commentary. Let me start by saying that at CCBC, we work hard to make good decisions using good data. We believe in accountability, and we think a Scorecard could be a good tool. But the College Scorecard as it now exists tells no true tale as it is based on data that was never designed to apply to community colleges or the students we serve.
Without seeming to be an apologist, here is why, in simple terms, the College Scorecard does not work for us and our students. The chief metric that powers the Scorecard is based on a federal database known as IPES. Developed decades ago, this system was designed to measure degree attainment of first-time, full-time freshmen, in a day when most college freshmen attended college as full-time students. How could this metric work for a present day college such as ours, in which 89 percent of the students attend part-time?
Furthermore, the IPEDS measure contains an old-fashioned bias in that it only measures degree attainment. Success for community college students includes associate degree completion of course; but success also embraces those who transfer to four-year institutions and those who earn short-term certificates or workplace certifications. These very concrete achievements put people into jobs or onto a baccalaureate pathway, feats achieved by 13,192 CCBC students this past year. IPEDS, however, measures none of these accomplishments.
A similar misfire occurs when the Scorecard provides financial projections. To calculate the cost of attendance, the Scorecard includes tuition, fees, room and board, whether a college is a residential school or not. As a commuter college, CCBC’s actual cost of tuition and fees for a full-time, in county student is roughly $3,500 a year. In the Scorecard, however, this figure morphs to $7,500 with the odd addition of a factor for room and board. Salary earnings suffer a similar fate. The Scorecard’s metric includes only the earnings of Federal Financial Aid recipients. At CCBC, that number applies to only 45 percent of our students, discounting the real earning power of the other 65 percent of graduates.
Community colleges are a bustling, robust, innovative and successful segment of higher education – but a consumer would not know this by visiting the federal College Scorecard site. Our success in preparing students for their next level of college or career achievement cannot be measured by a 50-year-old metric, designed and implemented well before many of our colleges were even founded.
Some have defended the Scorecard alleging that “bad data is better than no data,” a premise with which we wildly disagree. We would welcome a good Scorecard model, one that would prompt us to be competitive, to do our best. Unfortunately, the one we currently have does not reflect what we need most: multiple measures for the multiple missions we serve.
Sandra L. Kurtinitis, Ph.D. President