Four Things to Know about the Administration’s College Scorecard

Category: Federal Issues

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The Obama Administration released its long-awaited college scorecard on Saturday. The scorecard is a departure from the Administration’s original plan to create a college ratings system, which received widespread concern from the higher education community when announced in 2013. The original plan sought to link colleges’ federal financial aid eligibility to their ratings over time.

Many higher education groups support the purposes motivating the scorecard—transparency as students and families consider their higher education options. But these groups also are concerned that the scorecard, as released on Saturday, does not paint an accurate nor holistic picture of college costs, quality, and earnings of graduates once in the workforce.

Here are four key points to know about the college scorecard:

There are no rankings. Colleges and universities are not ranked by their results on the scorecard. Rather, individuals can search by programs or degrees, location, size, an institution’s name, and the type of school, specialized mission, and/or religious affiliation.

There is a lot of data. The scorecard includes both a transparency tool for Title IV eligible students and a more in-depth dataset for analysts. Prospective students can view the average annual net cost of a college or university, its graduation rate, the average salary after attending, the percentage of students paying down their debt, typical monthly loan payment, demographic information on the student body, average standardized test scores for admitted students, and the institution’s most popular degree programs.

There is a fair amount of controversy over the data. The higher education community has voiced concern over some of the data sources and their reliability. Some metrics are limited due to the fact that they only track federal financial aid recipients.

Some specific examples of concern include:

  • The average annual cost reflects the net cost for federal financial aid recipients only, leaving out data for students that are ineligible for federal financial aid.
  • The graduation rate metric reflects only the six-year graduation rate for first-time, full-time students. No metric is provided for transfer students, part-time students, or students returning to school for the second time.
  • The salary-after-attending metric (measured after 10 years of entering the school) reflects only the median earnings of former students that received federal financial aid. There is a reason for this metric being limited: the current Higher Education Act prohibits the Department of Education from tracking data on all students—but higher education groups, such as the Association of Public Land-grant Universities (APLU), have publicly pushed for the creation of a student-level data system that would permit a more reliable metric to be established. Regardless, further critique over this metric is that reporting institutional wage data rather than wage data from individual programs/majors provides a highly misleading statistic.

Significant controversy exists, too, in the access and use of Internal Revenue Service personal data by the Department of Education.

Further changes are coming. While several higher education groups have cited a lack of transparency and external participation in the scorecard creation and review process, there seems to be some willingness to collaborate by the Department of Education on future changes to the scorecard. APLU has announced that the Department has publicly committed to include a link to the Student Achievement Measure (SAM) data as soon as practical—which will provide prospective students with data on progression and graduation outcomes for all students rather than a limited population. Schools will also have the option in the future to include a URL to their own metrics for inclusion in the scorecard.

The college scorecard certainly presents an additional resource for prospective students in their decision-making process. Understanding the limitations of the data, however, is key. It appears that more comprehensive information may be available in the future.

You can view the current scorecard here.