The S.C. list

South Carolina schools on USA Today’s “red flag school” list:

School Grad. Default rate rate

Allen University 8% 27.1%

Benedict College 27% 29.3%

Denmark Technical College 13% 33.6%

Greenville Technical College 11% 14.7%

Horry-Georgetown Technical College 12% 12.7%

ITT Technical Institute-Greenville 30% 34.1%

Midlands Technical College 7% 13.0%

Miller-Motte Technical College 16% 25.2%

Morris College 25% 27.5%

South University-Columbia 21% 21.5%

Trident Technical College 7% 12.7%

University of South Carolina-Sumter 7% 8.8%

Trident Technical College has landed on a list of schools where student loan default rates exceed graduation rates.

The list came from a report that ran last week in USA Today, which analyzed data from the U.S. Department of Education and found 265 such schools in 40 states. It called them “red flag schools.” There are 12 of them in South Carolina.

Cathy Almquist, Trident Tech’s director of institutional research, said the college, which according to the report has a 7 percent graduation rate and a 12.7 percent default rate, made the list because of its low graduation rate. School leaders are aware of the graduation rate and have programs in place to begin to address it, she said.

Almquist also said she is not trying to make excuses for a low graduation rate, but she thinks the numbers in the USA Today report don’t tell the whole story. The graduation rate the newspaper used is based only on students who enrolled full-time in the fall of 2009 and graduated within three years. Trident Tech has many adult and non-traditional students not included in that rating, she said. And many of its students have work and family responsibilities, so they complete programs more slowly.

Miller-Motte Technical College, which has a campus on Rivers Avenue in North Charleston and another in Conway, also landed on the list, with a 16 percent graduation rate and a 25.2 percent default rate.

Chuck Vella, a spokesman for Miller-Motte, said in a statement that the company has several issues with the USA Today report, including that it appears to have combined both South Carolina campuses, likely is based on data only for students entering in the fall when Miller-Motte students enroll four times a year, and does not use the most current available default data.

Almquist said there hasn’t been a strong campus reaction to the USA Today story, likely because there were no students and few employees on campus last week.

And she said the state’s Commission on Higher Education has developed a “success rate” for the state’s technical colleges that it considers along with the official graduation rate. The “success rate” builds on the graduation rate by including full-time students who transferred to other institutions or still are enrolled.

Trident Tech’s “success rate” is about 49 percent, she said.

And the college has been working for years to boost both rates, she said, including a massive class schedule shift that will be fully in place by the fall of 2014.

Students tend to do better in classes that are shorter in duration, for instance those that run for seven weeks instead of a full semester, she said. By next year, almost all Trident Tech courses will run for seven weeks but will cover a full semester of content.

For example, a student who used to take four semester-long courses at a time would take two seven-week courses at a time. That student still would complete four courses in a semester but would be juggling only two at time. Research confirms that students fare better under such a system, Almquist said.

She also said financial-aid officers are working with students to help them better manage their student loans. The school’s default rate is not high compared with others nationally. The school made the list because of its low graduation rate, not its high default rate.

Trident Tech’s default rate is one of the lower ones on the USA Today list, on which many schools have rates higher than 30 percent.

Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491.