Trouble in Paradise: Scripps Underreports Student Debt

By Alexandra Vallas Copy Editor

Scripps students were in for an unexpected surprise this summer when news of an error in financial aid reporting was discovered. President Lori Bettison-Varga was forced to send out an email bearing an unpleasant realization for the Scripps community. The message, issued on June 28, stated that “average cumulative loan debt for graduating students for approximately 10 years” had been underreported by Scripps to the Common Data Set.

Scripps “voluntarily provide(s) statistics for use in higher education publications,” Bettison-Varga assured students, and Scripps still strives “to meet 100% of documented student need.” But although this spares the school the ridicule and shame endured by Claremont-McKenna College last year following their SAT score scandal, the backlash of such an error still has repercussions. First, Scripps was forced to conduct an external review of the issue, as well as a “forensic accounting of our student loan statistics” under the guidance of O’Melveny & Myers LLP, according to the email. Forensic accounting is a branch of accounting dealing with any anticipated legal action, as could be expected from falsification of data. Beyond these procedural measures, however, Scripps’ claims of integrity could be threatened by these kinds of oversights if they continue.

Students in attendance last year at Scripps will remember an even bigger discrepancy with Scripps’ ranking in U.S. News & World Report. Scripps was ranked 29on the list of Liberal Arts Colleges, a six-place drop from the previous year. The first factor in this decline was an underperformance in six-year graduation rates for the freshman class entering in 2004. The other, however, was an error in reporting the number of students who graduated in 2010 in the top 10 percent of their high school class. The college reported that 39%, rather than 70%, of students had graduated in this margin. This also affected the selectivity rating of Scripps, dropping from the coveted “most selective” to the lower “more selective” bracket.

But Scripps students can rest assured that things are coming back together as the academic year begins. This year, Scripps is back to the top 25 liberal arts colleges, tied with Macalester College at the 24 position. The Scripps community also currently is waiting to hear the outcome of the student debt review. Bettison-Varga offered her own words of reassurance in the email to the campus, saying, “We remain fully committed to our primary mission, which is to develop the intellect and talent of our students through a high-quality education.”