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The Government's New College Scorecard: What It Will Tell You

May 7, 2012 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

Choosing a college is difficult—for a variety of reasons. You can’t comparison shop, as the price everyone pays for a college education is different depending on their individual financial situations. It’s also hard to gauge a college’s success rate in terms of future employment and student success after graduation.

To combat this—and help students and families choose the right college—the Obama Administration is preparing to add a college scorecard to its College Affordability and Transparency Center*. The scorecard will provide key information to students and families that will help them make more informed decisions on which college to choose. Here are some of the points it will cover.

The cost of a going to college online. The scorecard provides the baseline tuition and fees for both in-state and out-of-state attendance. It can’t show you exactly what you’d pay, personally—that’s always different depending on your own financial situation. But it will show you the average amount paid after grants and scholarships alone.

The interesting thing here is that it shows you the average cost after grants and scholarships—not loans. Because even though loans are technically considered “financial aid,” they wind up costing you more—whereas grants and scholarships don’t have to be paid back. So with this analysis, you’ll have a solid idea of the average cost regardless of what loans you qualify for.

It will also show you how this college ranks in terms of costs (after scholarships and grants) as compared with other universities throughout the US. So you’ll know if it’s an expensive school, comparatively cheap, or somewhere in the middle. It also shows the percentage tuition has gone up in the past year—so you can have an idea of how it may rise in the future.


In addition, the information here is fairly superficial—it would perhaps be more useful for students to search for key data regarding job prospects.


Graduation rates

The scorecard will show you the percentage of students that graduate from this school within four, five, and six years—and the percentage of students who transfer successfully to other schools. It will also show how the college ranks in terms of graduation rates compared with other schools throughout the country.

Loan repayment

The scorecard also shows how successful former students are in repaying their loans—and compares that information with other colleges throughout the country. This is important information, because you can assume from there how successful these students are in landing jobs that will enable loan repayment. If your college’s graduates are struggling to pay off their loans compared with students from other colleges, it may be the case that this college isn’t well regarded by employers or doesn’t prepare students to thrive in the workplace.

Student debt

This section tells you how much debt graduates typically have when they graduate from a college. It will also compare that information with debt levels for other schools nationwide. If the college has relatively low debt levels compared with other colleges, it’s possible this college takes significant steps to support its students and ensure they graduate with the lowest amount of debt possible.

Earnings potential

This information is possible—but it’s not clear yet whether you’ll be able to see it once the scorecard goes live. President Obama has proposed including information regarding how many of a college’s graduates are employed, the types of industries they’re employed in, and their typical earnings. 

The scorecard hasn’t been launched yet, although you can see a prototype here**. And while it’s a great idea, it’s not without its flaws. For example, at the moment schools will be required to self-report on these metrics—and colleges are notorious for painting the rosiest possible pictures with their data. It’s already happened in the realm of legal education, according to this article*** in the Atlantic.

In addition, the information here is fairly superficial—it would perhaps be more useful for students to search for key data regarding job prospects, for example, for graduates of the school’s specific departments and degree programs, debt levels for students of specific income levels, tuition compared with other public schools or schools within a certain geographic area, and other, more detailed information—even generate charts for specific datasets.  Still, the scorecard is a work in progress—and the government encourages people to leave comments and feedback. Hopefully, when it’s launched, the “scorecard” concept will be improved to be both more interactive and detailed, and independently verified.


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