WSU Tri-Cities not listed in online higher education database

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 23, 2013 

President Obama touted an online higher education database during his recent State of the Union address.

The database features thousands of four-year universities, community colleges and vocational schools around the nation and is designed to help students determine the best fit when pursuing a higher ed degree.

But Washington State University Tri-Cities isn't on the list.

Officials with the U.S. Department of Education said the campus's exclusion stems from how WSU reports data on students.

"In some cases, institutions will choose to report their branch campuses separately ... but they are not required to do so if one main campus (reports) on behalf of all the branch campuses," according to a statement from the department sent to the Herald.

WSU officials said they've noticed other issues with data provided by the scorecard and are working with federal education officials to sort those problems out. They said they also understand why the urban campuses might have been excluded but would welcome them being mentioned somewhere in the online database.

"We definitely want people to know that freshmen can apply to attend in the Tri-Cities and Vancouver," said Melissa O'Neil Perdue, spokeswoman for the Richland campus.

Seventy-four institutions in Washington have scorecard profiles, including Columbia Basin College in Pasco, Walla Walla University and Whitman College in the Walla Valley and Heritage University in Toppenish.

WSU's main campus in Pullman is listed on the scorecard, but there's no mention of WSU system's almost 1,500-student Richland campus or its urban campuses in Spokane and Vancouver. The database has profiles for the branch campuses for the University of Washington in Bothell and Tacoma as well as the main campus in Seattle.

The WSU and UW systems do operate differently when it comes to campus governance, O'Neil Perdue said. UW's campuses in Bothell and Tacoma are more independent of the main campus than WSU's urban campuses are from Pullman.

She added that WSU officials and recruiters, including President Elson S. Floyd, have been good about promoting the urban campuses whenever possible, such as identifying them on the university's official letterhead.

However, it wouldn't hurt to make sure the Richland campus can be seen as a viable option for interested students, especially considering that three of the scorecard's search criteria are based on the geographic location of a campus.

"There's still pockets of the Tri-Cities that don't know about us," O'Neil Perdue said.

Officials on the Pullman campus have their own concerns with the scorecard.

Spokesman Rob Strenge said the scorecard's data on costs to attend WSU and UW have discrepancies. The scorecard has the cost to attend UW at around $7,000 less than to attend WSU. Both universities otherwise have very similar tuition and living costs estimates for Washington residents on their own websites.

"That would be a concern for us," he told the Herald.

Federal education officials said the scorecard will be improved over time. Not all of its features have been activated, such as a rating on what students earn following graduation.

However, they have not said whether WSU's urban campuses will be mentioned on the site or what WSU would have to do to get those campuses their own entries.

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