Details on college-student performance are tough to come by

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Some colleges and universities are reluctant to reveal details about student success and failure, even when given at least four months to do so.

In the spring, the Post-Gazette sent a survey to more than 30 colleges and universities, with questions ranging from information on remedial courses to student performance in key courses. There were questions about what placement exams are given, how many go on academic probation and what extra help is available.

Some of the toughest ones for schools to answer were those asking for the rate of failures and withdrawals in key introductory courses, certain math courses and 10 courses in any discipline with the most F's and W's.

Of the 14 schools in the State System of Higher Education, Indiana, Mansfield and Millersville universities of Pennsylvania were unable to provide data on how students performed in the requested courses. Mans-field declined to answer any questions at all.

Of the four state-related universities, Penn State University, the main campus of the University of Pittsburgh and Lincoln University declined to answer any questions while Temple University did provide information, including course performance.

Pitt did make its provost, James Maher, available to talk about the issues. The provost declined to release any numbers that weren't already carefully reviewed as part of the federal reporting requirements, but provided names of courses for which students most often seek help.

Pitt's Greensburg campus answered the questions. Its Johnstown campus was unable to answer the questions on student performance in the classes.

Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers cited a "lack of resources," adding, "the bulk of information being sought is unprecedented and too broad for us to commit weeks worth of work to gathering and verifying."

She noted that there are "thousands of pages of details" made public on Penn State's Web sites.

Among community colleges, Allegheny, Beaver and Westmoreland provided the information, but Butler County Community College gave limited answers.

Of the private colleges and universities surveyed, only Washington & Jefferson College provided any data on student performance in specific courses.

Carnegie Mellon, Chatham, Duquesne and Point Park universities and Allegheny College declined to answer questions.

Carlow, La Roche, Robert Morris, St. Francis, St. Vincent, Seton Hill and Thiel provided limited information.

Some schools -- particularly community colleges in Allegheny, Beaver and Westmoreland counties participating in a nationwide program called Achieving the Dream -- already had begun to look at some of the data and use it to help devise ways to enhance student success.

"We have some issues, and we are addressing those issues," said Randy Finfrock, director of institutional research and data services at Westmoreland County Community College. "We're not afraid to look at ourselves, warts and all."


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