The day after President Obama’s State of the Union address, the administration released a hallmark of his higher education proposals from the night before: the College Scorecard. In the works for about a year, the online tool is meant to provide families with more information about the value and return on investment of the specific college they are considering.
The value of a college’s degree is clearly on the public mind. Nearly every American agrees a college education is worth it, but they are increasingly unsure if a degree from College X is worth the price they pay. Even so, the College Scorecard has been met with a mixed response. Some of the biggest critics, of course, are the colleges themselves who want to continue to tell families to trust them on the fact that their degree is worth the price.
The Scorecard is a good start, but there is plenty of room for improvement. Below are some ideas for version two. (In the interest of full disclosure, as part of my work with The Chronicle of Higher Education, I’m working on a similar tool that will be released in April. It will include a few, but not all, of these ideas and features).
1. Allow comparison. This is one feature The Chronicle tool will allow. Most students apply to multiple colleges and consider more than one when they are making their final decision as where to attend. Right now, users of the Scorecard can’t make side-by-side comparisons of institutions unless they print out each college they are considering.
2. Better data on outcomes. This is not a design flaw of the Scorecard; it’s a lack of the right kinds of information we need to measure the success of graduates. Success is based on more than just earnings, but for now, earnings are the easiest outcome to quantify. College officials bristle at the fact that they are measured by the incomes of their graduates, but higher education has for decades been selling itself on the economic returns of a college degree. You can’t promote those national averages and then complain when someone attempts to calculate earnings based on major and institution. At the same time, we need much more information about what graduates are doing with their education, how engaged they are while in college, and how active alumni are in civic and cultural life in the communities where they eventually settle.
3. Speaking of outcomes, let’s better highlight transfer students. We all know by now the complaints about how the federal government measures graduation rates. The Scorecard attempts to address these concerns by including the transfer rate for those institutions that report it, but the number is buried in a text box next to the big—and often lower—graduation rate figure.
4. More complete information on net price, and add context. The Scorecard gives a link to an individual institution’s Net Price Calculator, but that requires students and their families to enter their financial information multiple times. A helpful improvement would be for the administration to aggregate the institutional calculators in a way that require the student to only enter the information once in order to compare net price across colleges. Also, as Education Sector’s Andrew Gillen pointed out yesterday on The Quick and the Ed, tuition varies a lot in a sector. Averages don’t tell the complete story. Neither does net price if a student doesn’t realize that similar colleges might charge more or less. The Scorecard includes an indicator showing if the net price is low, medium, or high, but the tool should also list comparisons to peer institutions.
5. What happened to College Navigator? The federal government has a bunch of information about individual colleges on its College Navigator site, but the Scorecard seems to strip out most of that information to include only the basic location and enrollment. A better integration of the two sites are needed for the next version.
What are your thoughts on the Scorecard? How can it be improved?
Photo Credit: Chuck Kennedy