The College Scorecard – It is about time!

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In this year’s State of the Union address, President Obama announced the creation of a “College Scorecard.” This Scorecard allows parents and students to compare colleges and universities based on “a simple criteria: where you can get the most bang for your educational buck.” The Scorecard alloys you to enter a college and see how much students and their families actually pay to attend, how much they borrow and if they end up defaulting on their loans, and if students end up getting degrees and jobs. The underpinnings of Scorecard itself aren’t new, but this does assemble information that the Department of Education has collected for years in one, easy-to-use website.

Almost from the moment it was announced, many colleges and universities have been distancing themselves from it.

Of course, colleges have tried to distance themselves from college ranking systems in the past. College leaders complain about ranking systems, yet trumpet their rankings when they do well on them. Behind the scenes higher education administrators go to great lengths to position their institutions to do well in the rankings.

In 2006, along with LifeCourse Associates, Crux Research conducted a poll of prospective students and parents. In this poll, we asked about decision criteria when considering which colleges to apply to and attend. We purposefully placed in criteria used in college ranking systems (most notably U.S. News & World Report), as well as more outcome-related criteria, such as those covered by the College Scorecard.

Of the top ten decision criteria used by students, just three are currently covered in the U.S. News & World Report’s annual college ranking system. The top four criteria are all covered in the new College Scorecard.

TOP FACTORS FOR STUDENTS

“How important are the following factors when choosing a college?”

% Extremely/ Very Important

Covered in existing rankings?

Final cost of attendance

79%

No

How much college debt you are likely to have

69%

No

Earnings capabilities of graduates

67%

No

Graduation rate

64%

Yes

Educational expenditures per student

61%

Yes

Amount of time full-time faculty spend with students

59%

No

% of graduates who pursue careers in their fields of study

58%

No

Average score on a national college learning evaluation for seniors

53%

No

Selectivity of the college

51%

Yes

Name recognition of the college

49%

No

SOURCE:  Millennials Go to College Poll of Students, (n=500 college bound high school students surveyed online in November 2006

The results of our poll were very clear. When deciding where to attend college, parents and students largely ignore the criteria that current college ranking systems tend to use. Instead, they are more concerned with outcomes measures like how much college will really cost, expected debt, if the degree will pay back, and the odds of graduating.

Yes, our poll from 2006 shows that prospective parents/students were looking for the type of information the College Scorecard provides. Seven years later, it appears they will get it.

We have seen that institutions will position themselves for success along an accepted metric, despite its imperfections. So, look for colleges and universities to become more transparent about their retention rates and debt-loads for students. Look for those who don’t perform well on these criteria to criticize the Scorecard in public, while privately working to improve their performance on it.

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