Government Pretends Conservative Schools Don’t Exist

To be fair, it goes both ways. As I’ve argued here, there, and everywhere, conservative intellectuals have long disputed the influence of the federal government in education. Now, President Obama jabs back: A new college scorecard simply left leading conservative schools off its list. The message is clear, and creepy even for non-conservatives like me.

In President Obama’s release of the new guide to colleges two weeks ago, he promised,

Americans will now have access to reliable data on every institution of higher education.

EVERY institution. If you don’t see a school on the list, it doesn’t exist.

Except they do. And the ones that were left off have glaring similarities. All of them are robustly conservative schools. Schools such as Grove City College in Pennsylvania, Hillsdale College in Michigan, Christendom College in Virginia, New Saint Andrews College in Idaho, and Wyoming Catholic College.head-in-sand

The schools were left off because they refuse to accept federal dollars for their students. Because of that, they do not have to file student data with the federal government. Because of that, the feds don’t have the information they need to put these schools on the scorecard.

Naturally, the schools themselves didn’t like it. According to the Washington Post, Paul McNulty of Grove City College issued the following statement:

However well-intentioned, the Scorecard as it exists now is incomplete and does not fully disclose comprehensive data that families need to make informed decisions. For now, the Department should, at the very least, include a disclaimer that the Scorecard is not comprehensive or reflective of all college and universities.

Hillsdale College had it worse. When the student newspaper inquired as to why Hillsdale was left off the list, it was told that the school granted a plurality of certificates, not degrees. Hillsdale told Fox News that it just wasn’t true. Hillsdale students are almost all in degree programs.

I’m no conservative, but I think these schools have every right to complain. To my mind, the creepy part of this story comes on two different levels.

First, I worry about any ranking of higher education based mainly on economic factors. I don’t think anyone intended for this scorecard to be the only measure of educational quality, but President Obama made no secret of the values inherent in this scorecard. As he put it,

You’ll be able to see how much each school’s graduates earn, how much debt they graduate with, and what percentage of a school’s students can pay back their loans…

That’s helpful information, but I don’t like the implication that such factors are the proper way to measure higher education. Even worse, any scorecard that claims to rank all colleges really should. By leaving out conservative schools who have not played ball with the federal government, this scorecard seems to be making a crude power play.

Again, I don’t agree with the guiding philosophies of any of these schools, but I think they have every right to be included in any list of “every” college out there.

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  1. Agellius

     /  September 28, 2015

    “I worry about any ranking of higher education based mainly on economic factors.”

    I totally agree. I suspect that a large part of the students of a given institution being able to pay off its loans, is due to the economic background of their families. Schools that attract more rich kids will have a better record of loans being paid off; which then makes the school more attractive since it gets higher rankings, so it attracts more rich kids, and you have a self-perpetuating cycle, which really doesn’t say much about the quality of education that people are getting compared to less selective schools.

    I’m not sure why the government had to do this in the first place. Wasn’t this information already available from other sources?

    • I’m not sure, but it seems as if the administration is touting this as a more convenient way to compare schools. Certainly, average joes did not have easy access to schools’ federal data reports. Speaking as a professor at a university that generally benefits from the most common ways of ranking schools (in this recent US News & World Report ranking, for example, my beloved Binghamton comes out tied with terrific public universities such as Colorado–Boulder & University of Vermont. Does that mean Colorado, VT, and Binghamton are somehow equal? Not at all. All three schools have different strengths, different environments, etc. Not just that, but students may be admitted to one “higher” school and refused from a “lower” school. It just doesn’t make much sense.), I feel free to say that these sorts of ranking and scoring systems are not bad in and of themselves, but they ARE bad when they give families the impression that they are somehow a reliable guide to educational quality. No such guide exists and it is misleading to imply that it does.

  2. If a private, non-profit school wants to act like the government doesn’t exist and be exempt from certain civil rights laws, I don’t think it’s surprising that the DoE would treat these schools like they don’t exist when it comes to marketing higher ed. Why should they give them free advertising? These aren’t just “conservative schools;” these are adversaries. They’re really the only ones with the power to truly defy the government, because they’re not taking federal funds. Their unique draw with students and donors is based on this defiance, so they need incidents like this to play the victim and market themselves as part of a never-ending culture war. If they were treated generously, they would behave the same way.

    • Agellius

       /  September 28, 2015

      But the only difference between the listed schools and the unlisted schools, that is pertinent to their inclusion in the database, is that the former take federal funds and the latter do not. I don’t think that declining federal funds should amount to defiance of the federal government. It’s just a matter of not wanting to be beholden to the government. “Not wanting to be beholden to” and “defying” are not the same thing.

      • Presumably it costs federal funds to produce and distribute this guide; why share?

        GC and especially Hillsdale have long made a point of defiance. That really is the correct term for their ethos. They both put “slights” like this front and center in their marketing. That’s what their culture and constituency is about.

        The oddball Calvinists in Moscow, Idaho also rely on an anti-federal narrative. The founder and leader of that church-college-community is a neo-confederate whose views on “Christian marriage” strike most Evangelicals as crazed and abusive. I don’t know a thing about Wyoming Catholic; I’d give them the benefit of the doubt. The anti-federal stuff in the other schools is tied to classic white Protestant/Presbyterian nativism.

        Hillsdale has traditionally presented itself as conservative and libertarian, with the libertarian ethos coming out clearly in their notorious fraternity culture. They’ve always been respectful about religion, but it’s buy no means a religious school. Around 2010 they adopted “traditional Christian marriage” as a matter of policy, despite having openly gay students for a long time and no major friction over that. Coincidentally, they also received some anonymous gifts at that time and had the son of the major theonomist philanthropist family come in as a student. (Theonomists, as in people who have made verbal and financial support to capital punishment for homosexuals around the world.)

  3. Agellius

     /  September 28, 2015

    Why share? In order to provide the thing that the DOE claims to be providing: A comprehensive guide to colleges, as a service to parents and students.

    • Why not include Canadian colleges then too? They’re becoming more popular with American students.

      If you don’t pay taxes in order to opt out of certain laws so you can separate from corrupt, secular society and enjoy your religious liberty, why do you need or want the government promoting you anyway? That just doesn’t go with the BO.

      • Agellius

         /  September 28, 2015

        Who’s opting out of laws? If the colleges were violating any laws, presumably the government would be slapping sanctions on them. What the government imposes is conditions on receiving government money. When the money is declined, the conditions don’t apply. No laws are being violated or defied in any of this.

        As far as not paying taxes, I think you have it backwards. It’s not that the schools, or students and their families, are refusing to give money to the government. On the contrary, they are refusing to take money *from* the government. But not only that, the families of students at these schools pay more in taxes than other students, since college tuition is deductible only at schools that participate in the federal financial aid program.

        When you combine the fact that these students don’t take money from the government, with the fact that their tuition is not tax deductible, the government comes out way ahead with the non-participating schools compared with the participating schools.

      • Does the government owe these colleges a spot in a DOE guide book? That’s the only issue here.

        Answer: no it does not.

        Beyond that I’m arguing three of the four colleges that were omitted have a history of antagonistic relations with the government and/or anti-federal, anti-civil rights ideologies. I think there may be good reasons to discriminate against them, from the government’s perspective, especially in a Democratic administration. These are movement-type schools that play activist roles in partisan politics.

        All four colleges are opting out of laws they’d have to follow if they were not religious non-profits and/or receiving federal funds. Opting out does not mean violating. Of course it’s legal for them to do this. I don’t know why I mentioned taxes; that was a mistake. I meant the acceptance of federal loans and anything else in that category, which goes back to Grove City College v. Bell.

        If these are all tax-exempt, non-profit schools right, they are allowed to retain that standing as long as they comply with federal law. They’re allowed certain exemptions from civil rights laws if they are religious — they can discriminate against certain protected classes in their hiring and admissions, for example. If they accept no federal funds at all, then they can ignore Title IX and possibly any civil rights laws they want. You have to admit that’s really problematic for the government and the law. Civil rights have been a constantly contested area of the law, so it’s never really a settled issue. The rise of sexuality and gender related categories as protected classes of people is unsettling it again.

        Many Americans do not regard educational institutions that are free to ignore civil rights laws as a boon to the nation even if you spin them as economic assets. Maybe people find it very disturbing that a school, let alone a religious one, would stake its mission and identity on an expanding list of categories of people it needs to discriminate against to maintain its moral and spiritual integrity. That is what these colleges do, par excellence.

  4. Agellius

     /  September 29, 2015

    As things are this may seem farfetched, but there could actually come a time when liberal/progressive institutions make a considered decision to decline government funding for the sake of preserving their integrity. Whether or not I agree with their particular reasons, I hope I could at least respect the underlying principle.

    • Funny. If there ever comes a time when anti-liberals take control of the federal government and impose anti-civil rights legislation that requires universal discrimination, I am pretty sure they will not allow exceptions where toleration is practiced, because that in itself would be a liberal thing to do. The “underlying principle” would have been destroyed deliberately.

      It would not be “liberal/progressive” people only who would object to this; if it happened I would assume most people who don’t care to live under tyranny would have left or died.

      There is a huge difference between being “forced” to treat others equally under the law and being forced not to. It is simply a matter of right versus wrong. Our system of law and government can only be what it is if it bends toward the former course, based on a foundational theological claim from the heart of Jewish and Christian tradition. If some Christians dislike that claim, they should stop calling themselves Christians and embrace one of the many identities on the right that suit them. You can find an extensive list here:

  5. Agellius

     /  September 29, 2015

    I don’t know how this turned into a discussion of the rightness or wrongness of civil rights.

    • That’s what it’s been about since 1964 in the latest iteration. J. Howard Pew (Pew Family/Sun Oil) was a Grove City alum who hated FDR and saw a threat in any federal say-so over private colleges (and business). The Pews bankrolled Grove City and the Evangelical movement in general starting in the 1940s. They got behind the Goldwater campaign in 1964. These are the headwaters of the modern conservative movement. Goldwater in 1964 was, as I mentioned before, the first to use the southern strategy, the first to use dogwhistle code words to activate a racist, segregationist base. It was and remains very much about whether we will have civil rights for all or a white supremacist society. The GOP is falling apart today because its racist and religious base (the two often overlap) have been promised since 1964 that their support would result in them securing their biggest demands, and the oldest of these (preceding but related to recriminalized abortion) is to keep minorities from achieving equal freedoms under the law.

      • Agellius

         /  September 30, 2015

        Your argument seems to be:

        Premise A: Every entity that does similar things must do them for the same reasons.
        Premise B: Grove City College declines federal money due racism.
        Conclusion: Every entity that declines federal money must do so due to racism.

        Hmm… Premise A seems kind of sketchy to me.

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