What’s the Score Mr. President? Exploring the New Federal College Scorecard

the college scorecard

What is the College Scorecard?

College Scorecard is a new online college comparison system administrated by the Department of Higher Education, making public their research on the average income of graduates, graduation rates, and real cost after financial aid is factored in. The information on College Scorecard is backed up by two years (and counting) of federal data gathered through the DHE.

The greatest benefit of the College Scorecard is transparency: universal access to data shifts the focus to actual, real-world student outcomes rather than the reputation, faculty reviews, and other softer data favored by rankings like U.S. News & World Report. The college ranking industry, which includes USN&WR, the Princeton Review, and many others, has long been criticized for their reliability; the Chronicle of Higher Education, the leading professional journal of college professors and administrators, even answered in February of 2015 with their own satiric interactive program, Make Your Own College Ranking. The College Scorecard answers many of those criticisms by making it possible to know, with reasonable certainty, what students can expect to get from their degrees.

While many in higher education are uncomfortable with education being packaged as a product or commodity, most students and their families have to consider the practical costs and benefits of a college education, which is a significant economic sacrifice for most Americans. The College Scorecard provides a level of financial transparency that many potential students have been looking for.

The College Scorecard was first proposed two years ago by the White House to provide families with a reliable government website that would hold colleges accountable and guide prospective students to the colleges and universities that deliver value. As President Obama explains, “Americans will now have access to reliable data on every institution of higher education.”

Is it Really All It’s Cracked Up To Be?

However, there are some justifiable criticisms of the Scorecard currently. The new systems do not actually include all institutions, only colleges, and universities that fall under Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965. Title IV relates to federal financial aid programs; schools included under Title IV qualify for federal student loans. Therefore, many smaller trade schools, religious schools, and unaccredited experimental schools are not listed.

In a related concern, salary statistics are only gathered from former students and graduates who received federal funding, a fact that somewhat skews the numbers. Higher-income graduates, therefore, are mostly excluded from the statistics, along with data concerning their income and salary potential, leading to some backlash arguing that the wealth of the highest 1% of graduates is obscured. A lack of data for schools not receiving federal funding means the small trade schools and religious schools that are exempt from Title IV are also a dark portion of the total.

What Does College Scorecard Mean for Value Colleges?

Value Colleges, like other ranking sites, have relied on Payscale.com for the same sort of data for developing our rankings, and while Payscale has typically been reliable, a data set based on Department of Higher Education statistics is an invaluable resource to verify numbers. College Scorecard provides another tool like IPEDS, foregrounding affordability and ROI, which is perfectly in line with the Value Colleges mission.

It’s important for information-seekers to remember that the College Scorecard is only a single metric. The Scorecard does not rate or rank; it only reports data. It is also not useful (at least not yet) for prospective graduate school students, since the Scorecard only includes data for associate and bachelor degree programs. But in the long struggle for transparency, accuracy, and truth in advertising for one of America’s biggest, and most important, businesses: higher education.

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