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White House College Scorecard: Does it Live Up to the Hype?

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In his State of the Union address earlier this month, President Barack Obama promised to help the American public control the escalating cost of college while providing students and parents with more information about prices and value, or a way to help get “the most bang for your educational buck.”

The next morning, February 13, 2012, the U.S. Department of Education’s College and Affordability and Transparency Center released the interactive College Scorecard, which allows users to view a college or university’s net cost—the average amount paid after grants and scholarships, rather than its full sticker price. Data about the school’s graduation rates, the median student loan amount borrowed by undergraduates, and student loan repayment and default rates as well as graduate employment and salaries are also provided. Users can view and compare information about multiple schools.

Is It Going to Help?

Colleges can be searched by name, location and type of institution as well as a prospective student’s areas of interest. The tool is hoped to supplement the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Paying for College website, which is intended to help potential students understand the true costs of attending a particular college due to the price of books, supplies, transportation and other expenses in addition to tuition, along with the Department of Education’s Shopping Sheet.

While on paper it appears that the government is making an effort to help families make more informed decisions when it comes to choosing the right college and determining how to pay for it, many educational experts feel the College Scorecard falls short. The White House claims that the Scorecard can help students find a college that is a good fit based on factors like location, size, and majors offered as well affordability, but educational groups feel that other pertinent information is being left out.

The scorecard is “not a game-changer as much as the administration would like to believe,” said Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education, a major association of colleges and universities, reports The New York Times.

Problems with the College Scorecard

The Times also notes that some Scorecard data is already outdated and much is available elsewhere, including College Navigator, which is also run by the Department of Education. Another setback is the fact that students and their families are unable to enter or view real financial figures. Information is presented in averages and medians.

Inside Higher Ed points out that the scorecard fails to include information regarding long-term outcomes or student success and satisfaction. Many higher education professionals believe those factors are just as valuable as cost and affordability.

“It takes a very narrow focus on the whole idea of how one chooses a college and what one should consider,” is how W. Kent Barnds, vice president for enrollment, communications and planning at Augustana College, in Illinois, described the Scorecard.

While it’s true that many recent liberal arts graduates earn lower starting salaries than their business and STEM counterparts, the earnings gap tends to close over time thanks to graduate degrees or other professional certifications that are earned years down the line.

The New York Times explains that the government is currently prohibited from keeping track of people’s educational backgrounds, which would be necessary to calculate exactly how much money graduates are making, but websites like Payscale.com analyze payroll data and publish annual college rankings based on graduate earnings.

Research and Compare Colleges

While the College Scorecard may need additional fine tuning, it’s possible for students and their families to conduct their own research. Some important things to consider, some of which are profiled in the Scorecard, include:

  • Accreditation
  • Location
  • Net cost
  • Size
  • Admission rate
  • Graduation rate
  • Student retention rate
  • Student / faculty ratio
  • Professor quality
  • Use of teaching assistants
  • Majors offered
  • Course availability
  • Social scene

Much of this information is also available right here on StateUniversity.com. Take advantage of our college rankings, online university degree search, financial aid guide, and comprehensive school profiles.


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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