For students, higher education may be the single most important investment they can make in their futures to ensure they have the knowledge and skills needed to compete in an increasingly global marketplace.
With college costs and student debt on the rise, the choices that American families make when searching for and selecting a college have never been more important. Yet, students struggle to find clear, reliable data on critical questions of college affordability and value, such as whether they are likely to graduate, find jobs, and pay off their loans. At a time when America needs colleges to focus on affordability and supporting all students who enroll, many existing college rankings reward schools for spending more money and rejecting more students. And college leaders and state policymakers who seek to improve institutions’ performances often lack reliable ways to determine how well their schools are serving students.
The College Scorecard offers data on more than 7,000 higher ed institutions nationwide, including nearly 2,000 data points and 18 years worth of information. The College Scorecard was redesigned a year ago with input from students, parents, educators, researchers, policymakers and counselors. Anyone can use the College Scorecard to access data on tuition, population, potential income and other information to help students make a data-driven selection. And now, come this winter, students who use Google Search to look up a college or university during application season may be pleased to see a new results card complete with stats on the institution. Google Search has integrated the College Scorecard from the United States Department of Education, making it easier for students to compare information.
When a user searches for a college or university in Google, they’ll get more than a map and logo for the institution in the right-hand side of their browser. Alongside the address and brief Wikipedia synopsis, they’ll find information related to student outcomes, such as the graduation rate and the average salary of the university’s graduates. Working with the U.S. Department of Education, Google has incorporated data from the College Scorecard directly into its search results. “Hundreds of millions of students and families pursue their college questions through Google, where trillions of searches are made every year,” Secretary of Education John King writes.
This College Scorecard can empower American students to rate colleges based on what matters most to them; to highlight colleges that are serving students of all backgrounds well; and to focus on making a quality, affordable education within reach. The old way of assessing college choices relied on static ratings lists compiled by someone who was deciding what value to place on different factors. The new way of assessing college choices, with the help of technology and open data, makes it possible for anyone – a student, a school, a policymaker, or a researcher – to decide what factors to evaluate.
Implications of the Scorecard
This means, as an institution, the visibility of your stats will increase.
In keeping with the original vision, the federal Administration recently released a plethora of previously unavailable information about colleges. New metrics include the average family income of students, the characteristics of the average student’s ZIP code, better transfer, debt, loan payment, and completion metrics, and, most importantly perhaps for the American public, student earnings data for thousands of colleges.
This represents a big step toward increased transparency in higher education. Parents, students, college leaders, journalists, policy makers, and researchers are now empowered to more empirically evaluate thousands of U.S. post-secondary institutions in terms of their contributions to student economic success.
Before these data, there were two sources of earnings data available to the public. A few states, like Texas, linked state tax records to college records and produced tables showing earnings immediately — as in one quarter – after graduation for people working in the state and attending colleges in the state. A broader and more useful database is provided by Payscale, a salary tool. Their College Salary Report database provides self-reported earnings data by college for alumni who use their website tool.
While the Scorecard adds potentially valuable information to the dizzying array that is already available, it suffers from many of the same flaws that afflict nearly every other college ranking system… There is no way to know what, if any, impact a particular college has on its students’ earnings, or life for that matter.
Perspective on the Scorecard
The College Scorecard is an asset to the public, as organizations dedicated to improving higher education have noted, and the project should be continued with annual updates as new data come in. Better yet, the earnings data should be linked to all attendees, not just federal aid recipients.
Thus, as opposed to the ambiguous and often inconsistent definitions and grading categories used by popular ranking systems such as those from U.S. News or Princeton Review, the College Scorecard, backers say, emphasizes each college’s discrete value—or, as the U.S. Department of Education puts it, getting the most “bang for your educational buck.” Proponents say it makes students’ academic and employment outcomes more transparent for prospective consumers, allowing prospective students and their families to spend their money efficiently and set aside adequate financial support for their children’s postgraduate studies.
You will see that colleges fare differently on the Scorecard depending on the metric. Institutions such as State University of New York Downstate Medical Center, Kentucky’s Berea College, and California’s Samuel Merritt University top lists when considering students’ post-graduation earnings and average annual cost, while Ivy Leagues such as Harvard, Princeton, and Yale perform well when sorted by graduation rate. The tool also provides comprehensive profile pages for each college or university, detailing the percentage of its students paying down debt and the typical total debt per student, on top of information ranging from demographic breakdowns to lists of popular academic programs. Advocates are touting the launch of the College Scorecard as key to filling in long-standing gaps in data about college institutions and allowing consumers to focus on the metrics they find most important to them.
Regardless, there are difficulties and challenges in assessing higher-ed quality. It’s impossible to capture an institution’s value, the college experience, and its impact on students with a single metric. And perhaps therein lay the danger in any ranking system, but particularly those that do not differentiate or categorize, such as the U.S. News rankings.
It ultimately helps add more dimension to a potential answer for the thorny question around the “value” of an education at different colleges. Its data, reviewed in conjunction with that of existing ranking systems builds a more holistic picture of what different colleges and universities have to offer—providing greater guidance on one of the toughest, often most costly, and hopefully, most rewarding decisions many students need to make. It will be more important than ever for institutions to make efforts and devote resources to continuous improvement efforts and also documenting those efforts – efforts that will improve academic quality and support students because these are efforts that will affect future student success and these are the kinds of data/information now available for public consumption.
“By featuring this data front and center, Google is helping more students and families get the information they need when they need it,” Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr. wrote. Google has already integrated the data into Google Search results. Next year, FAFSA will direct students to the College Scorecard as well.