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Missing From College Scorecard: Nearly 1 in 5 Community Colleges

Students searching for colleges on President Obama’s new College Scorecard can find detailed information on costs, graduation rates, and employment outcomes for thousands of colleges nationwide, from Harvard University to Harcum College.

What they won’t find is any mention of Front Range Community College or dozens of other institutions like it. That’s because the scorecard excludes colleges that “primarily” award certificates, even if they award nearly as many two-year degrees. Front Range, in Colorado, awarded 1,771 certificates and 1,693 associate degrees in the 2012-13 academic year.

All told, some 17 percent of degree-granting community colleges are missing from the search tool, according to an analysis by the consultant Phil Hill, which he posted on the blog e-Literate. He calculates that 159 community colleges are excluded from the site. Fewer than half of Colorado’s 13 community colleges are featured.

Denise Horn, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Education Department, said that the department was able to include only predominantly two-year and predominantly four-year colleges in the first version of the consumer-oriented scorecard. (A technical site, which includes analyses and additional data intended for researchers and policy makers, does include data on the missing colleges.) “We are working with our developers to correct the issue as quickly as possible,” Ms. Horn said.

In the meantime, students will have access to information on how graduates of certificate programs fare through disclosures required under the federal government’s “gainful employment” rule, which measures whether career-focused programs prepare students for jobs.

While some analysts have been surprised by the gaps in the scorecard, they were forewarned. The department announced plans to limit the scorecard to predominantly two- and four-year institutions last December, when it released its college-ratings framework. In doing so, the agency argued that comparing certificate programs to degrees would be difficult because certificate programs vary greatly in length, ranging from a semester to nearly two years.

Still, critics say the exclusion of certificate programs from the scorecard undermines the Obama administration’s own efforts to promote stackable credentials.

“These institutions’ not appearing on this touted ‘good data’ site, produced by the government, may make some students shy away from what could be a really useful and employable credential,” said Cali Morrison, communications manager for the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education’s Cooperative for Educational Technologies.

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