Defending a College with a 0% Graduation Rate?

Tim Goral's picture

It’s not often that you see members of Congress (or anyone for that matter) defending a college with a zero percent graduation rate. But that is exactly what is happening for Oregon’s Marylhurst University. Both of the state’s Senators and three of its representatives recently wrote a letter to the Department of Education defending the University against claims from the Department’s own College Scorecard that it has a 0% graduation rate.

Zero percent is certainly at odds with the rhetoric on the website of this small, open-admission, Catholic liberal arts school. Student success is in the first sentence of a lengthy and passionate case for cultivating ethical, engaged leaders capable of taking on the challenges of a rapidly changing world.

But talk is cheap and self-promotion is easy, which is why Republicans and Democrats have been calling for better, more comparable data that students can use to inform their college-decision making processes. Marylhurst, however, isn’t alone in tooting its horn. The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning recognized the university as a national leader for its "outstanding commitment to the expansion of lifelong learning opportunities and for innovative efforts to improve access and quality in academic programs for adult learners."

It turns out that adult learners are the problem. Or, more accurately, how the federal government counts (or doesn’t count) adult learners. The College Scorecard reports graduation rate data only of first time, full time students. However, just three percent of Marylhurst’s students fall into that category. The vast majority are working adults taking upper division courses part time in order to complete a degree started elsewhere. And these students seem to be doing well. Out of 911 undergrads enrolled last year, 204 graduated. But the success of these students doesn’t count, at least not according to the federal government. Disregarding the majority of students at an institution is not fair. Not fair to the institution, not fair to students.

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