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The Opposite Of The Dean's List

The Education Department, headed by Secretary Arne Duncan, says it's keeping a close eye on 556 colleges and universities that do a poor job of complying with federal regulations and handling federal financial aid.

No school wants to be on this list.

It was just released by the Department of Education. On it are the names of 556 colleges and universities that failed the department's "financial responsibility test."

Undersecretary of Education Ted Mitchell says that each school's finances are now being placed under a microscope because the government "had serious concerns about the financial integrity of the institution or its administrative capacity."

With this watchlist, Mitchell says, the Education Department can better ensure that these schools use federal student aid in a way that's accountable to both students and taxpayers.

The list includes 103 private, nonprofit colleges. Sixty-eight are public schools — including Alabama State University, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and Roxbury Community College in Boston.

Also on the list are some selective, private universities with otherwise good reputations: Bard College at Simon's Rock in Massachusetts, Long Island University and San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

But of the 556 schools on the list, a majority (just under 300) are private, for-profit schools — including places with names like Galaxy Medical College, David's Academy of Beauty and the Real Barbers College.

The Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities did not respond to NPR's requests for comment. But they're not the only critics of the feds' watchlist.

"It's a shaming technique and a very different approach in the department's relationship with colleges and universities," says Richard Ekman, president of the Council of Independent Colleges.

Ekman acknowledges that many schools fail to present accurate or complete information about how they handle government funds, and he believes the Education Department has every right to go after those schools.

"What I don't know," Ekman says, is whether this list "is a list where the diagnosis has been made correctly."

He worries that some schools in good standing have been unfairly singled out and had their reputations tarnished. Ekman says the department has, in the past, accused innocent schools of violations and failed to correct its mistakes.

Whether or not a college belongs on the list, Ekman insists the effect on admissions, donations, and public reputation is the same. "And to try and correct that can take years," he warns.

Undersecretary Mitchell says the department is listening to its critics. "We've heard concerns from higher education, and we hope to work to address those."

But the government clearly believes the benefits of making its list public far outweigh any potential risks to individual institutions. With this information, Mitchell says, students and families will be better informed and better served.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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