Commentary: Scorecard misrepresents value of younger, non-profit colleges

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Goodwin College appreciates the U.S. Department of Education’s desire to help Americans assess the return on their investment in a college education. At Goodwin, we, too, are deeply committed to career-focused education.

But we are also deeply concerned that its recent College Scorecard, cited in your Sept. 16 article, seriously misrepresents the value delivered by younger, non-profit schools like Goodwin College that serve non-traditional adult learners.

The Scorecard released by the Obama administration does not seek to rank or grade schools — it’s an epic data dump. It includes basics like average annual cost and graduation rate. What’s new and unique in this data set is information like how much students earn 10 years after entering a school, the percentage of first-generation students at a given school, and the percentage of students who repay federal loans within three years.

The scorecard is useful to measure larger, older colleges that reflect traditional norms, but the variables the Department of Education decided to focus on do not capture the level of nuance to truly understand smaller colleges. The scorecard did not rank or grade colleges against each other because such direct comparisons would not be fair or accurate.

We would like to share data and four key facts that can help your readers better assess our scores — as well as those of many other institutions like Goodwin College.

The College Scorecard doesn’t accurately reflect alumni earnings from younger schools.

To determine the average earnings of graduates, the College Scorecard looked back at each institution’s 2001 enrollees and evaluated their income in 2011 — 10 years later.

Goodwin only began awarding four-year degrees in 2009. In 2001, only 10 percent of our students sought associate degrees. The rest were enrolled in our English as a Second Language classes or short vocational certificate programs.

So this data does not reflect the success of our many recent graduates — including the 1,400 nurses and many other professionals — who contribute in so many ways to Connecticut’s economy.

In fact, the average starting salary of Goodwin graduates entering the workforce between 2011 and 2014 was over $45,000.

The College Scorecard mixes 2001 and 2011 data and so misrepresents student debt.

Debt and transfer credits
On average, $13,511 of the debt was transferred into Goodwin. Average Debt for 2002 is pulled from IPEDS information and NSLDS. Disaggregated data for debt brought into Goodwin by transfer students was found using proprietary, restricted-use NSLDS data from 2013. Credit Transferred in was found using proprietary internal census files from fall 2013.
2002 2013
Debt Load for Completers $2,478 $33,764 ($20,253)
Average transfer in credits N/A 31 credits
Goodwin College

Our average student loan debt in 2001 was only $2,478.

The 2011 loan debt for someone attending a four-year college at Goodwin can’t be compared with students taking short-term programs at Goodwin in 2001.

Further, nearly two thirds of our students transfer in from another college — many of them bringing with them associated debt from previous institutions which gets attributed to Goodwin College. That said, the College Scorecard does show that the majority of our graduates are earning enough to pay down their aggregated debt from across all institutions.

The College Scorecard’s graduation rate only reflects full-time students attending college for the first time.
Graduation rate for different students
Most Recent year of non-preliminary data as defined by the Department of Education.
2002 2013
First-time, full-time (IPEDS) graduation rate N/A 29%
Non-IPEDS completion rate N/A 55%
Goodwin College

Eighty-two percent of Goodwin College’s students attend part time. They aren’t your typical “freshman class.” Their average age is 30. Most of them are working when they enroll.

So any score that measures the graduation rate of typical freshmen is extremely under-representative of a college like Goodwin College.

Currently, our independently verified graduation rate is at 55 percent. And while that’s commendable for an institution that serves so many students who have had to postpone or suspend earlier college attempts, our faculty won’t be satisfied until they help even more students focus and finish their degree programs.

The College Scorecard’s average annual cost doesn’t factor in many types of aid.

It doesn’t include any institutional aid or scholarships.

It doesn’t include Pell Grants, Veteran benefits or any other Title IV aid that students are NOT obligated to pay back. Many of Goodwin College students receive these types of aid, which greatly reduces their average annual costs.

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Thank you for sharing these key points with your readers. We know how critical it is for each student to choose the right college environment — one that can help maximize his or her own success.

And we understand the seductive appeal of trying to base that decision on simple scores. But the truth is, data without context isn’t information. It’s misinformation. And there are so many other factors that go into deciding whether a college is right for you.

We welcome the opportunity to engage in these deeper conversations with all those who share our commitment to serving the non-traditional student.

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