Education Department Releases Updated College Scorecard

Posted By Arthur Murray on September 14, 2016 at 5:45 pm
Education Department Releases Updated College Scorecard

The U.S. Department of Education today unveiled its updated College Scorecard, an effort to help college students navigate the process of selecting their postsecondary school. The site, which has information about thousands of colleges across the country. Students can search the DOE database by name of an institution, size, degrees and programs of study and location.

The purpose? U.S. Undersecretary of Education Ted Mitchell explains it in a post on the office DOE blog. “The College Scorecard makes choosing between thousands of institutions easier by providing simple to understand information on institutions’ incoming students and the graduating students’ outcomes,” Mitchell writes. “Along with 1.5 million other folks, I’m using the Scorecard as I help my daughter in her college search.”

Students and their parents can filter results by categories including profit vs. nonprofit, public vs. private, and religious affiliation. Among the information returned on individual institution pages – average annual costs, graduation rates, and average annual salaries for graduates, as well as national averages for each category. Mitchell says the update includes fresh data on college completion, debt and repayment statistics, and post-college earnings. “This refresh now brings the College Scorecard to 19 years of higher education data that is made available, encompassing over 1,700 data points across 7,000 institutions,” he writes. The update is at least the fourth improvement for the Scorecard since the original was published a year ago.

College Scorecard update reaction mixed

Not surprisingly, reaction to the update – and even the Scorecard itself – is mixed.

Betsy Mayotte, director of consumer outreach and compliance for American Student Assistance, regularly advises consumers on planning and paying for college. She says the Scorecard performs a useful function. “By updating the College Scorecard, the Department of Education is taking a valuable step forward in equipping prospective students with the information and knowledge they need to find their best financial fit for college,” Mayotte says, noting that the Scorecard should be a catalyst for further discussion.

But Stephanie P. Kennedy, founder of My College Planning Team, isn’t as enamored. “The advantages of the Scorecard are that it has made people aware of more ways to evaluate a college and the college’s fit, including rate of graduation, rate of transfer, average student debt.  These are all critical factors to families in making good college choices.”

That said, she sees drawbacks: “The primary downfall of the Scorecard is that it is all simply statistical, all averages. Each student should begin with averages in finding information, but true factors in best-fit colleges must be made on the individual situation of the student and how the many, many individual factors and experiences of each college impacts them.”

As good as the numbers are, she says, picking the right school “requires human interaction between the student and the college personnel:  admissions counselors, professors, support staff, student development staff.”

Other criticisms note that the Scorecard falls short by reporting only high-level looks at such outcomes as earnings data, noting that data specific to majors would be more useful to students. Examples include program-specific online tools for colleges in Colorado and Tennessee.

The future of the College Scorecard

Mitchell says more improvements are coming. “The higher education landscape is changing, and this tool will itself change over time. We’re working to integrate the college scorecard into the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid); considering other cautionary indicators that students should be aware of before enrolling in an institution, and continuously improving the quality of our data, particularly around completion rates.”

Arthur Murray
Arthur is managing editor of GoodCall, directing its newsroom. He has nearly 30 years of newspaper and magazine experience. A native of Virginia, Arthur attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and graduated with a bachelor's in journalism.

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