The federal government has just released an updated college system called College Scorecard. The College Scorecard website provides data on college net costs, debt and future earning potential. The goal of this tool was to help families find better college value by comparing the institutional performance of colleges in an easy format. Providing this transparency about the educational experiences and outcomes at different college enables families to see a true picture of college net costs and college fit.
The new College Scorecard can be found at https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/. This new Department of Education (DOE) tool is another way for families to find comprehensive data about each college. The College Scorecard does not rank the colleges specifically but instead provides information so that families can analyze the information they think is pertinent and sort it using various common comparisons.
The data for College Scorecard was collected mostly from publically available information including the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS), the Treasury Department’s federal wage records and the Student Achievement Measure (SAM). College Scorecard includes national data ranging from demographic information to student outcomes. It should be noted that the demographic data compiled consisted of only first-time, full-time students who were eligible for federal grants and loans and does not include the other subsets enrolled in that college. This may distort some of the information displayed and does not give a total picture of the institution presented. The DOE is currently evaluating and possibly expanding the analysis in 2016. Colleges may begin reporting on the other subset of students such as first-time, part-time students, non-first-time, full-time students; and non-first time, part-time students.
A student can input the program, degree, major, location, size and name of the institution. Once this is inputted the type of schools requested will populate the screen and students can look at the average annual net cost, graduation rate and salary after attending selected college. The one difficulty with this tool is that a student cannot input their whole college list and compare them side by side. The schools need to be researched one at a time. After a student views a school there is also not the option to save that information so that only the colleges you want can be viewed. Of course, if all the schools you are researching are in the same demographic area and close in radius they would show up but may be included within several pages of schools.
When looking at the cost feature, it is important to note that the average annual net cost of the college is computed assuming that the family will be receiving federal financial aid. The system provides an average net cost divided into 5 different family income ranges. This sometimes can be misleading if you have multiple children in college at the same time.
Most families are concerned with student debt at graduation. College Scorecard will enable a student to get a better view of the long term effect of student loans at their respective school choice. The tool will show the medium debt of graduates from an institution. It will also show the monthly payment based on this debt level. The calculation was based on the 10-year standard repayment plan. An individual payment could actually be lower if the person chose an income-driven or another repayment plan.
The graduation rate is also presented at six years and not four. I have written numerous articles that the best cost saving plan is to graduate in four years. The four-year number is not displayed which is a little disappointing since it is available in the IPEDS data.
The Scorecard program also lists the share of Pell recipients at each school. This was included so that families could see the accessibility at each college specifically for lower income families. As an example, Harvard has a low net price for the families in the income bracket of $0 to $48,000 but only enrolls a small population of this type of student.
The tool can compare a specific college or university and determine the median earnings potential of past students who attended that school. It lists the median earnings of a graduate, 10 years after graduation. The one problem with this is that the data is only from past graduates who had federal financial aid and does not represent the total student body. It is also not by major or career which can distort the results.
College Scorecard does compile unique data on colleges and universities in specific categories. I have listed the four areas that you can compare easily:
- Four-year schools with low costs that lead to high incomes
- By state, two-year colleges where students can earn high salaries after graduation
- Four-year schools with high graduation rates and low costs
- Public four-year colleges with high graduation rates leading to high incomes
The College Scorecard site enables easy connections with other government websites, specifically sites related to college and financial aid. The section on types of financial aid leads the user to the government website, studentaid.ed.gov. A family can also calculate an estimate of their financial aid by going to the section calculate your aid. This leads a family to the FAFSA4caster. We have written a blog about FAFSA 4caster and listed the many limitations of this calculator. Please click here to view our article.
If you will be using GI Benefits, the College Scorecard also has a link to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs where information is provided about education and training.
The College Scorecard is another free tool that can help families with College Affordability. As with any tool, it should be viewed with other information so that a complete picture can be made of each institution. The website does have limitations. One being the population of data calculated is only from first-time, full-time students who had federal financial aid. When looking at the data, a family should also note the data is computed from sources that could be older and not give a current cost representation of the college. This is true with most large data analysis using various sources and analysis.
One initial goal of College Scorecard was to make colleges and universities accountable for the outcome of the students. It had been planned as an information source to evaluate each college and rank them. This ranking would then be used to deploy federal funds based on the performance of each college. Due to the subjectivity of the outcomes, this decision will not be implemented. The federal government is trying to get students to graduate with degrees that are valued in the labor market. Will this added transparency help? Time will tell!