Department of Education. Wikimedia Commons

The U.S. Department of Education acknowledged on Monday its error last year in calling Hillsdale College a “predominantly certificate degree-granting institution” rather than a four-year institution that offers bachelor’s degrees as well as master’s and doctoral degrees.

The erroneous statement came in September 2015, when The Collegian asked an Education Department spokeswoman why Hillsdale College was excluded from the department’s new College Scorecard, which President Barack Obama said provides a “comprehensive” look at information of all four-year colleges.

“The department’s first discussion with Hillsdale included an incorrect explanation of Hillsdale College’s not appearing on the scorecard; that explanation, related to certificate-granting schools, applied to another Hillsdale,” the Education Department said in a statement to The Collegian.

The original comment from Denise Horn, now-former Education Department assistant press secretary, drew concerns from parents, prospective students, high school counselors, and college supporters at the time, Senior Director of Admissions Zack Miller and Provost David Whalen said.

“We’re pleased the Department of Education understands the degree-granting nature of the college,” Whalen said. “Its error about that created some confusion…However, it would still be preferable, if the scorecard approached more nearly its stated informational purpose and included so venerable and academically strong an institution like Hillsdale.”

The reason for Hillsdale’s exclusion, despite President Barack Obama calling the scorecard “comprehensive” for its September 2015 launch, was made more evident in January, when the department added 700 certificate degree-granting institutions to the scoreboard but not Hillsdale. Monday’s statement reaffirmed that the Education Department excluded Hillsdale from the College Scorecard because it is not a Title IV institution, meaning it doesn’t accept federal funds.

“Hillsdale College…does not, and is not required to, report to the department the student-level data that the Education Department uses to calculate federal debt, repayment rate, and median earnings data,” the statement said. “In fact, the department is by law permitted only to collect student-level information for federal financial aid recipients, so we would not be permitted to collect data on other, non-recipients of federal financial aid. Because those institutions would lack many of the key data points the Scorecard publishes and promotes, the site does not include institutions that do not participate in the federal financial aid programs, including Hillsdale.”

While the Education Department cannot demand student-level information from non-Title IV institutions, Hillsdale College is already submitting such data to the department’s National Center for Education Statistics for the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, though that information doesn’t include student loan repayment to the college. The College Scorecard obtains information on federal loan repayment from the Internal Revenue Service.

Registrar Douglas McArthur said Hillsdale offers baccalaureate, master’s, and doctoral degrees.

President Larry Arnn said he was happy that the Education Department does recognize that Hillsdale isn’t a certificate degree-granting institution.

“The college is an excellent college and widely known to be an excellent college,” Arnn said. “It is serious about its mission…The college has these purposes, and it announces them, and it pursues them, and it pursues them objectively at a high level. In the end, that will determine our reputation and not what people say who don’t know who we are. Those people are powerful, but that doesn’t mean they have credibility. It depends on their excellence. And I don’t have anything to say about that.”

The department wouldn’t specify the institution it mentioned as being mistaken for Hillsdale College in Monday’s statement, though Hillsdale Beauty College is classified as a “certificate” institution in the College Navigator, a platform of the Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics. The information displayed in the College Navigator is supplied by IPEDS, which also provides some of the College Scorecard’s data. At that time, Hillsdale College was submitting information to NCES for inclusion in IPEDS, but the agency didn’t accept the data, Whalen said. The college, therefore, would have appeared in neither IPEDS nor the College Navigator.

“Hillsdale is a predominantly certificate degree-granting institution,” Horn said in September 2015. “Hillsdale does offer bachelor’s degrees. However, because the plurality of degrees it awards are certificates, not two-year or four-year degrees, it was not included on the scorecard at launch.”

Hillsdale College is now listed as a four-year institution, offering bachelor’s and “advanced” degrees and not certificate awards, in the College Navigator. The NCES added Hillsdale, after the college received notice it could voluntarily submit information to IPEDS without ethnic or racial data of students on Oct. 8, 2015, Director of Institutional Research George Allen said. Hillsdale submitted the fall 2015 survey Oct. 9, 2015, to be included in the database. It, however, didn’t add Hillsdale to the College Scorecard.

Whalen said there is no initiative the college is pursuing to have Hillsdale added to the scorecard, though the issue is frequently discussed.

“The college would happily cooperate with any plan from the Department of Education to reform the College Scorecard,” he said. “But it could become a project for Hillsdale at some point.”