New College Scorecard Program Helps Stundents Select The Right College

September, 2015

In 2013, President Obama announced that his administration had planned to release a tool that rated colleges based on their academic success, post-graduation earnings, awarded federal aid, and financial aid management however, the tool never released to the public. That December, instead of ranking the institutions, they planned to release another tool to allow users to compare higher education institutions with each other. Earlier this month, the White House finally released its highly-anticipated “College Scorecard”.

President Obama described in his weekly address, “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.” Instead of ranking colleges from best to worst, the Scorecard allows users to attach filters to college searches using parameters such as size, location, and curriculum. Inputting a specific institution’s name will bring up its average annual cost, graduation rate, and post-graduation alumni earnings. The Scorecard also displays other statistics such as how many students receive federal loans and a student’s average 10-year earnings following graduation, which affects a potential student’s ability to pay off the loans.

The current data on the Scorecard derives its information from 171 megabytes of data from the IRS and over 7,000 institutions. However, this does not represent a full picture of the entire college landscape, as it does not include every single institution, plus the Scorecard could only track graduation rates of students who attended college full-time. The post-graduation earnings only account for 70% of students who received financial aid, which can vary greatly based on the major that a student enters.

A few days prior to the release of the Scorecard, the National Center for Education Statistics released a current report on “non-traditional students in higher education.” This report states that roughly 75% of all students have a unique or unusual characteristic, such as living independently for financial aid purposes, having at least one dependent, attending class part-time, or working full-time. These students often take longer to graduate, which not only complicates the Scorecard’s data, but means that these students end up paying more overall tuition and get into more student loan debt.

The U.S. Department of Education highlights three other programs that utilize the Scorecard data, allowing students additional methods for comparing institutions:

  • ScholarMatch  - for students whose families earn less than $50,000 annually and allows them to search for schools they can apply for based on their standardized test scores and GPA.
  • College Abacus  - compares the financial aid at different institutions.
  • Start Class  - allows users to compare schools based on post-graduation earnings, tuition, and acceptance rate.

The press release for the Scorecard said the software would help to increase transparency in the data surrounding higher education. In his weekly address, Obama said the administration would improve the Scorecard to “help everybody who’s willing to work for a higher education search for and select the college that fits their goals.”