President Unveils Website to Aid in College Search

New College Scorecard Aims to Help Compare College Costs

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Two years ago President Obama unveiled plans for a college rating system in an attempt to help students and parents better compare the costs and benefits of attending particular institutions. This original plan was roundly criticized for its efforts to publicize low-rated schools that leave students with high debt loads and poor earnings potential. Some schools thought it was unfair and arbitrary, and that it might also motivate students away from pursuing lower-paying areas of study such as the arts and humanities.

It was also felt that private college ranking services might be better equipped to provide an unbiased picture of college performance.

In response to this input, the idea has been replaced by the recently introduced College Scorecard. Instead of providing a rating, the site provides information about annual costs, graduation rates and post-graduation salaries that will allow parents and students to make their own comparisons. Although this data could be found by searching individual college websites, the government site aims to provide easily comparable information on every school in one convenient location.

The President’s initial intent was to not just provide information, but to link the availability of federal student aid to these ratings as a type of performance motivator. Although that seems to have fallen by the wayside in this latest incarnation, the administration is still attempting to establish rules that would prevent federal dollars from going to certain low-performing schools or for-profit institutions.

The website allows users to search for schools using a variety of criteria such as field of study, location, average annual costs, graduation rates, average salaries after graduation, and specialized mission. It also provides helpful statistics regarding college attendance, earnings potential and college financial aid.

Interesting topics that could lead to new areas of research include such nuggets as:

  • 23 four-year schools with low costs that lead to high incomes
  • By state, two-year colleges where students earn high salaries after graduation
  • 30 four-year schools with high graduation rates and low costs
  • 15 public four-year colleges with high graduation leading to high incomes

In its effort to provide sound information that will help in the student loan decision-making process, a major goal is that site visitors will be able to assess how much each school’s graduates earn based on tax records, see how much debt they graduate with based on data from the National Student Loan Data System, and determine what percentage of each school’s students can be expected to pay back their loan. This information will be very helpful in deciding how much to borrow, and should provide advance notice of whether the student has a realistic likelihood of being able to repay the monies borrowed.

Because of its open data format, information used to develop the Department of Education’s scorecard is also being shared with other online college search tools such as ScholarMatch, StartClass and College Abacus to provide the most accurate data possible.

Officials say they hope the information will help students avoid making poor choices when deciding which college to attend. There may be refinements yet to come as students and parents begin using this new tool, but it should prove to be a valuable asset in the search for reliable college data.

Obtaining a college degree is still a worthwhile goal, but choosing the right college is a decision that is based on many factors such as field of study, reputation and location. Using this tool will also add the ability to estimate a probable financial return on investment.