On Feb. 13 the Obama administration unveiled the College Scorecard, an online program aimed at assisting prospective college students by reviewing the financial aspects of a college education. This online tool compares net prices, graduation rates, loan default rates and median borrowing. Though the College Scorecard is a step in the right direction in that it serves to make colleges more transparent and accountable by publicizing student debt load and financial difficulties post-graduation, it fails to consider in-state and out-of-state tuition differences, as well as long-term student success.
The Scorecard calculates the net price of a college education as what an undergraduate student pays for tuition after grants and scholarships have been subtracted from the cost of attendance. Also included in the online tool is the graduation rate of the university, which is the percentage of first-time, full-time students who graduate within six years — leaving transfer students and adults completely out of the picture. Additionally, there’s a tab for employment that is supposed to give information on average earnings post-graduation, though this is a work in progress.
The College Scorecard in its entirety is a centralized place where students and parents can compare colleges financially, establishing a platform for the ultimate college search. Universities can be sorted by interest, major, location or scholarship. Costs and default rates can be compared to the national average, as well as across colleges. It is ultimately building a “shopping sheet” that also provides a link to each college’s individual price calculator for a more in-depth estimate.
The tool highlights financial data but fails to present it in a way that allows for a healthy comparison. The average net price of attendance and median borrowing is misleading — there’s simply not enough statistical information, such as standard deviation or the cost of living, that would form a more exhaustive report. The median and average values don’t account for the high and low numbers that may have accumulated at any end of a range and vary college to college. Furthermore, the data used to put this online tool together is a few years old, and it’s still uncertain how often this information will be updated.
While the financial information is a priority for many prospective college students, it puts too much emphasis on finances and not enough emphasis toward other crucial aspects of a university education. Important determinants like learning outcomes, student satisfaction and quality of education are left out of the equation. The numbers may dismiss a student from attending a college that may be an excellent fit. Moreover, it incentivizes students to regard attending college only as an investment that will increase future income and deter them from focusing on intellectual development. This effort by the Department of Education is praiseworthy, but can be made even better.