With college application season in full swing, the White House launched a new initiative Saturday to provide a comprehensive college data source for prospective undergraduates.

The College Scorecard — which includes data by college on cost of attendance, graduation rates and student loan debt — is intended to help families determine which schools may be the best fit. The scorecard also contextualizes each school’s set of data by providing comparisons to national averages.

The site also links to resources that provide students with information on federal financial aid packages, as well as a tool that forecasts the federal aid students would likely receive.

Along with the rollout, the U.S. Department of Education highlighted the University’s for its high graduation rate and low costs for low-income students. The University was one of 30 schools to make the list, which included several Ivy League schools like Harvard University and Yale University. Only six public universities made the list, including two of the University’s peer institutions, the University of Virginia and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Obama has recently introduced several policy initiatives focused on higher education, including a plan to move the Free Application for Federal Student Aid deadline forward to align the delivery of aid packages with college decisions, as well as a $175-million grant competition to promote apprenticeships.

Along with First Lady Michelle Obama, Dr. Jill Biden and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Obama is leading a nationwide tour focused on education. The president’s first stop was at Macomb County Community College in Warren last Wednesday.

In Warren, Obama said employers are increasingly requiring some form of higher education for new hires, a sentiment he echoed in his weekly address Saturday. In both speeches, the President said higher education is the best ticket to the middle class.

“By the end of this decade, two in three job openings will require some higher education,” he said Saturday in his weekly address. “That’s one reason why a degree from a two-year college will earn you $10,000 more each year than someone who only finished high school.  One study showed that a degree from a four-year university earns you $1 million more over the course of a lifetime.”

In the weekly address, Obama argued that because it is becoming a necessity to earn a degree beyond a high school diploma to succeed in the workforce, it is important that prospective students have access to the kind of data the College Scorecard provides.

“You’ll be able to see how much each school’s graduates earn, how much debt they graduate with, and what percentage of a school’s students can pay back their loans — which will help all of us see which schools do the best job of preparing America for success,” he said.

The White House said in a press release Saturday that this data is critical because college costs and student debt are growing.

“Students struggle to find clear, reliable data on critical questions of college affordability and value, such as whether they are likely to graduate, find middle-class jobs and pay off their loans,” the release said.

Susan Dynarski, professor of education, public policy and economics at the University, said the University does a good job providing funding for its low-income students, especially in comparison to Ivy League schools.

College Scorecard reports the average annual cost for in-state students at public universities who are federal financial aid recipients. It also provides a cost breakdown based on family income and a tool that allows students to calculate their personal net cost of attendance. According to the scorecard, the average annual cost for in-state students at the University is $16,287, which falls just slightly under the reported national average: $16,789.

The median earnings of University graduates who received federal financial aid, 10 years after their first year at the school, totals $57,900 — more than $20,000 higher than the reported national average. Scorecard says 78 percent of students who attended the University are earning more than the median high school graduate.

The site reports 37 percent of students at the University receive federal financial aid and the median federal debt for students who graduated from the University is $22,000. Scorecard notes that 93 percent of University graduates are in the process of paying down their debt — almost 30 percent higher than the reported national average.

Dynarski said the scorecard is useful because it provides prospective students with a more comprehensive picture of the institutions they may attend.

She also said when the Obama administration launched the College Scorecard, it released the data it contains in raw form, which could enable other institution’s to find innovative ways to disseminate the information to students.

“This means that all of the nonprofit organizations out there that aim to help students navigate the college application process can take this data and generate their own scorecards, their own apps for smartphones,” she said. “So I think the point is for it to leverage the capacity of other organizations to help students.”

Dynarski cautioned, however, that the comparison the site makes between each school-specific metric and the national average is not always the most useful tool to look at in determining the performance of a particular institution.

To assess whether or not University graduates are successful, she said comparisons should be drawn only between the University and its peer institutions, such as the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Virginia. Students at these schools, she said, come from similar backgrounds and have similar educational abilities to University students — which differ from those of the median college student.

“I don’t think it would be accurate or helpful to focus on, ‘Look: University of Michigan graduates make more money than the typical college student,’ because the typical college student is going to a non-selective institution and they weren’t at the top of their high school classes," she said. "Michigan can’t get credit for how smart (its students) are coming into Michigan."

According to the scorecard, the University of California at Berkeley has a graduation rate similar to the University’s, and its median graduate earns about $5,000 more a year than the University’s. The University of Virginia also has a similar graduation rate to both schools, and its median graduate earns very close to its counterpart at the University.

In an e-mail interview Tuesday, Stephen DesJardins, professor of education and public policy at the University, said he likes the scorecard because it acknowledges that prospective students are consumers of information, and provides them with the information they need, based on “official” government data.

He said it would be most useful to what he called “traditional students:" those looking to attend a four-year institution straight out of high school. DesJardins said the scorecard would be of limited use for non-traditional students.

He noted that while the tool is helpful, it does not necessarily meet all of the Obama administration’s goals regarding the provision of higher education data. He said the administration has stated its goal to hold higher education institutions more accountable, and added that this tool does little in that regard.

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