When applying for college, wouldn’t it be great to have a crystal ball that showed your paycheck 10 years after graduation? You could weigh the tuition costs versus the return on your investment. Well, believe it or not, former President Obama created this crystal ball back in 2013. Obama announced during his State of the Union address that he was launching a plan to make higher education data accessible to all. Known as the College Scorecard, it was intended to give parents and students the information they needed to “get the most for your educational buck.”
This resulted in a system that opened up information such as average family income, average annual tuition, debt upon graduation, average loan payment after graduation, graduation percentages, and average salary after graduation.
Why Is The College Scorecard Useful?
The College Scorecard gives a level of transparency to higher education that was previously only imagined. Anyone who wants to evaluate colleges and universities based on actual data can now do so. Students are empowered to thoroughly research universities and not rely solely on marketing information. Also, educators are more motivated to have their students graduate and succeed because the numbers are being tracked.
What Information Can I Obtain from The College Scorecard?
By typing in the name of a college in the CollegeScorecard.ed.gov website you can find the graduation rate of attendees. Seeing graduation rates is particularly helpful, because they will show who completed, transferred, or is still enrolled in school two, three, four, six, and eight years later.
Cost of Education
You can also view the average annual cost of attending the school in addition to seeing how many students repaid a dollar of principal on their federal loans within three years. The comprehensive pages of information on each school enable you to take a deep dive into the amount of debt you might walk away with.
Perhaps most importantly, you can see how much students are earning 10 years post-graduation. The earnings data can show results by gender, income upon entry, and dependency status. This is of particular interest for most prospective students, because they need to assess their ability to repay loans.
The College Scorecard also shows how many students attend full-time versus part-time, the breakdown of race/ethnicity, and the socio-economic diversity of the students. You can also see their SAT/ACT scores upon entering and what programs are the most popular.
Ways to View the Data
You can sort colleges by metric, which means that you can sort schools by post-graduation earnings. For example, SUNY Downstate Medical Center, Albany College of Pharmacy and Medical Sciences, and Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center – Shreveport all top the list for earnings. When you search according to graduation rate, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and Miami Regional University are all ranked high.
How Does the College Scorecard Compare to Other Rankings?
There are a few sources available for college rankings that existed prior to the creation of the College Scorecard:
U.S. News & World Report, Forbes, and The Princeton Review
Organizations such as U.S. News & World Report, Forbes and The Princeton Review rate and compare colleges and universities in the U.S. They were the leading sources of information prior to the College Scorecard being released.
Money, ProPublica, and The Chronicle of Higher Education
Money shows factors in their school rankings that measure quality, affordability, and outcomes to show schools that have the best return on investment. ProPublica created a ranking system that shows how schools support poor students. The Chronicle of Higher Education has an interactive site that lets you create your own ranking based on “prestige” and “fat paychecks.”
College Salary Report by Payscale
The College Salary Report from Payscale is a useful tool that aggregates self-reported earnings data by alumni. It surveys 2.3 million graduates from over 2,700 colleges and universities who are asked to report their pay, major, highest degree earned, and the name of their degree.
Why the College Scorecard is Better
The rankings that existed before the College Scorecard can be misleading, because they’re based on data that isn’t readily available and may be influenced by the outlet’s opinions of what makes a quality institution. Obama urged that these rankings encourage schools to “game the numbers” causing them to be even more inaccurate. The College Scorecard compiles raw data without the opinion of a third-party layered on top.
The data in College Scorecard aligns with what’s available in the Census Bureau. Comparisons of the accuracy show that the earnings data is closely correlated across the College Scorecard and the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, which surveys one percent of U.S. residents.
Longer Period of Time
The College Scorecard supersedes other rankings, because the earnings data covers a longer period of time. You can find data from six to 10 years after graduation, which is more indicative of a person’s potential lifetime earnings. It also shows data for people who leave the state after graduation.
Larger Sample Size
The College Scorecard’s sample size is about 10 times larger than Payscale and covers approximately 4,000 more colleges. This means it has additional reach that Payscale doesn’t offer. When comparing Payscale’s mid-career salary earnings data, the correlation is 0.82. That means the earnings information from the College Scorecard aligns with Payscale for the most part.
Cons of the College Scorecard
Not Representative of All Students
A weakness about the College Scorecard is that it only shows students who received federal aid. Those students are more likely to be financially disadvantaged than students who don’t receive financial aid. This skews the data toward students who come from families with lower incomes.
Limited to One Branch of a School
Another difficulty with the data from College Scorecard is that it doesn’t show data for the different branches of a school. For all colleges with earnings data, “8 percent of students across 31 percent of campuses attend what appears to be…a branch campus.” This affects federal default rate data and makes it harder to distinguish if the earnings reported are accurate for one or more campuses.
Recent Updates to the College Scorecard
With 2.5 million users having already accessed the site, the Department of Education sees value in continuing to update it:
- In September 2017, a new feature was added that allows students to compare up to 10 schools at once.
- Nearly 700 additional universities that primarily grant certificates were added in January 2016.
- Closed institutions were removed from the site and “caution flags” were added to schools that had financial or federal compliance issues in March 2016.
- Improvements were also made in September 2015 to the College Scorecard website, data, and Application Programming Interface (API), which makes data more readily accessible.
- Now, the Department of Education is working to integrate the College Scorecard with the FAFSA in order to provide students with more data to help during the decision-making process of choosing a higher education institution.
The College Scorecard gives you more ways to find the right school for you. Although critics say that it doesn’t offer a completely well-rounded image of what a school’s actual value is and whether or not you leave with a quality education, more data is better than less data, right? It’s meant to guide one of the toughest decisions you’ll ever make