White House Scorecard Ignores Higher Ed Model with Best Chance to Boost Degree Completion
By Excelsior Life News Staff—
The White House’s College Scorecard has generated substantial feedback from both higher education and student communities. Unveiled the day after President Obama’s State of the Union address, the initiative is in response to growing concerns over both access and affordability in American higher education.
Yet, while the scorecard is promising in concept, it is ill-suited to provide meaningful information on distance learning programs. Data used to produce the Scorecard comes from the Department of Education and the IPEDS (Integrated Postecondary Education Data System) reports submitted by colleges and universities across the nation. Many categories, especially the five “key points” used in the Scorecard, are based on "full-time, first-time, degree/certificate-seeking undergraduates," a definition that is geared toward campus-based schools.
More than 34 million Americans have some college but no degree, according to the Lumina Foundation. Many believe that to reach the Administration’s goal of 60 percent degree completion by 2020, America needs to find a way to help these working adults finish their degrees. Unfortunately, at institutions such as Excelsior College, an accredited nonprofit that focuses on meeting the needs of adult learners, students are neither full-time nor first-time. As a result, Excelsior is excluded from the Scorecard database, even as it represents a 21st century model for reaching the President’s goal.
Working adults must balance numerous family and work commitments and full-time studies are often not an option. Since its founding in 1971, Excelsior has enabled more than 148,000 students to utilize multiple pathways to degree completion. Students can pursue online courses, portfolio assessment or even credit by exam, which has been a hallmark of the Excelsior experience since its beginning. Its 38,000 currently enrolled students include more than one-third from historically-underrepresented minority groups. Nearly 40 percent are active-duty, reserve, or veterans.
In keeping with its founding philosophy of “what you know is more important than where or how you learned it” ®, Excelsior keeps degree costs down by accepting in transfer appropriate college-level credit students have earned from a variety of sources including other colleges and universities, evaluated programs offered by industry, the professions and the military, and college-level examination programs.
Under this model, in the 2011-12 academic year alone, Excelsior accepted 618,000 credits in transfer from 14,000 newly enrolled learners. If Excelsior had required students to take these credits over, based on that year’s tuition rate, they would have paid an additional of $219 million.
“This is an expense students, their families and benefactors – including federal and state sponsored grant and scholarship programs – did not have to pay for a second time” said Excelsior’s President Dr. John Ebersole. “Excelsior has turned these credits into ‘working assets’ for our students, removing a potentially significant barrier to degree completion.”
This multiple pathways approach is one of the reasons that the median debt for an Excelsior College student is substantially less than the national average.
While the White House’s Scorecard is a new effort toward transparency in higher education, Excelsior College has been a leader in this area for years. The Presidents’ Forum, an organization it formed back in 2004, engaged in the Transparency by Design project that resulted in a website where it and other similar colleges provided information to aid consumers in making an informed decision about pursing their degrees. Funding for this project has since run out but Excelsior carries it forward at its own website with a wealth of information not addressed by the President’s Scorecard. The College provides a net price calculator. It also serves up data on factors such as student learning outcomes and undergraduate student engagement, both of which are compared to national data.
Excelsior College Examinations (ECEs) offer proficiency examinations covering a diverse range of subjects, from nursing and business to economics, geology and history. For example, a student may register for a three-credit labor relations exam at a cost of $95 and independently study for the exam using a myriad of resources, from textbooks to Open Education Resources such as Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCS). The student can then prove their mastery of the subject through an ECE administered at any of the 4,500 secure Pearson VUE testing facilities. Credit earned will be recorded on an Excelsior College transcript which can be used toward their Excelsior degree or for transfer at hundreds of other colleges or universities.
“Truthfully, to find the model for the 21st century, we only need to look at Excelsior’s four decades of experience and success,” said Ebersole