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Students would be wise not to put too much faith in what the federal government deems an "A+" school.

The Obama administration just can't get enough of higher education. Its latest is a "college scorecard" released earlier this month to help guide students in their college search.

President Barack Obama says he wants students to get the biggest bang for their buck, and it's a follow-up to his call for "datapalooza" two years ago.

"In an economy where some higher education is still the surest ticket to the middle class, the choices that Americans make when searching for and selecting a college have never been more important," according to a statement from the White House.

The scorecard highlights lots of information, including tuition cost, debt load, graduation rates and average graduate income. But the list falls short on numerous levels.

In his weekly address on Sept. 12, Obama said, "Americans will now have access to reliable data on every institution of higher education."

Well, not every institution.

The scorecard is far from complete, and blatantly leaves out conservative colleges — and ones that take pride in refusing federal dollars. On that list is Michigan's Hillsdale College, a private liberal arts institution — and my alma mater. The college doesn't even accept federal money in the form of student grants or loans. Pennsylvania's Grove City College, which also doesn't take federal funding, was left out, too.

Hillsdale rightly took issue with its absence from the list, and asked the federal Department of Education for its rationale. The answer, given to the college's student newspaper The Collegian, was bizarre. A department spokeswoman claimed the college was left out because "the plurality of degrees it awards are certificates" rather than four-year degrees.

That's not true whatsoever, as the college only awards four-year undergraduate degrees and master's degrees. In addition, as Hillsdale notes in a press release, the college is frequently ranked by independent organizations like U.S. News & World Report, Forbes Magazine, The Princeton Review and Kiplinger's as "one of the best liberal arts schools in the country."

The federal government should at least be honest about its motives. It left out any college that doesn't participate in Title IV federal financial aid programs — and ones that don't track and report racial demographics.

In addition, the scorecard is clearly advertising federal student aid; on the main page, students can click on a link that shows them an array of government-issued loans and aid available to them. The feds now issue and service 93 percent of student loans.

So it's in the government's best interest only to include colleges that accept federal aid.

In addition to leaving out some excellent institutions, the scorecard has other flaws. Lindsey Burke, education policy expert at the Heritage Foundation, says the Obama administration is offering a limited view of what aspects students may want to get out of their college experience.

"It's a blunt instrument," she says. "The federal government is putting its seal of approval on what it values in higher education."

By focusing on the earning average of graduates after 10 years, the scorecard unfairly ranks quality schools, including women's colleges. Many graduates may choose to stay home with their children, but that doesn't mean they didn't receive a good education — or a good value.

And rather than expanding access to information, the scorecard could constrict data, as independent entities like Kiplinger's and Forbes may not want to compete with the federal government.

The scorecard is the latest federal interference in the college realm. And much like its other efforts — such as in the area of student loans — the unintended consequences are often harmful for students, rather than helpful.

"This administration has really grown the federal fingerprint on higher education," says Burke.

ijacques@detroitnews.com

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