The benefits of higher education are multi-dimensional, and not all are easily measurable. Individuals ought to have ready access to the information they need to choose a college that meets their needs and aspirations; and the federal government could play an important role in helping to identify the appropriate information. At the same time, the weighting and assignment of value to that information must remain squarely in the hands of individuals so they can find their “best fit” college.
The College Scorecard is a far superior alternative to the federal postsecondary ratings system proposed by the Administration, but the Scorecard contains serious flaws that undermine its overall effectiveness. Among the concerns, is the Scorecard’s focus on monetary measures of value. No institution should be reduced to two or three key numeric factors. The College Scorecard must continue to evolve if it is to be helpful to families, and fair to all institutions, particularly those that serve a high proportion of low-income students.
In many respects, the limitations in the first version of the Scorecard may make the college search and selection process confusing for students and their families—given that it contains no qualitative information. The variables included on the Scorecard are limited in their ability to guide a student to his/her best-fit college.
The College Scorecard, which was released on September 12, 2015, grew out of the Obama Administration’s failed attempt to create a federal postsecondary ratings system. Broadly, the scorecard compiles existing data – such as net price, graduation rates, and student body diversity – to create institutional profiles. It also includes a host of new metrics including salary data, median graduate debt, and student loan repayment information. Although the College Scorecard is preferable to a federal ratings system, questions remain regarding the validity and usefulness of the new tool.
The idea of a federal postsecondary ratings system was first proposed by President Obama in August 2013. In December 2014, the Administration released a detailed framework of metrics that it was considering for inclusion in the ratings system. Throughout the process, NAICU presidents were actively engaged in discussions of the proposal writing letters and op-eds, and participating in listening sessions and meetings with Administration officials.
Department of Education officials announced in June 2015, that they were moving away from a postsecondary ratings system. Officials noted that NAICU members’ arguments were particularly “articulate, passionate, and provocative.” The College Scorecard released in September 2015, will continue to evolve, according to the Administration, however officials have not yet set a timetable for when an updated version will be released.
Of note, the College Scorecard does feature a series of specialized rankings, including a list of “schools with low costs that lead to high incomes,” and “schools with high graduation rates and low costs.” The Scorecard is not intended to be a tool to directly rank or compare colleges, so such classifications seem to be inconsistent with the new direction charted by the Department. It is unclear whether these specialized rankings will be maintained or expanded in the future.
The Scorecard faced criticism in January 2017, when it was revealed that it had been publishing inaccurate loan repayment rates for most colleges. Blaming the blunder on a “coding error,” the Department was quick to fix the mistakes.
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What You Can Do
- Alert NAICU Government Relations staff member Tim Powers to any concerns or suggestions about how to improve the College Scorecard.
- Bring any problems with data about your institution directly to the Department of Education at email@example.com, and to NAICU Research staff member Jason Ramirez.