NAICU Washington Update

Obama Administration Unveils New “College Scorecard”

September 17, 2015

Promising a “consumer-facing tool” to help students, families, and school counselors identify and select colleges, the Department of Education recently revealed the new “College Scorecard”— a federal data tool which evolved from President Obama’s proposed vision of an institutional ratings system.

Broadly, the College Scorecard aggregates much of the data that has already existed in various databases, such as College Navigator, and packages that data into more visually appealing graphics and charts. Familiar metrics such as net price, graduation rates, and student body diversity are prominently displayed on the Scorecard. However, the Scorecard also includes a host of new metrics including salary data, median graduate debt, and student loan repayment information.

One of the emerging, more contentious data issues is the inclusion of student earnings. Never before has the Department published data gleaned from the IRS as a metric of institutional quality. Absent the proper context, earnings data can be manipulated to praise or condemn institutions of higher education as high or low-quality based solely on this single metric. Given the diversity of the American higher education landscape, earnings can significantly fluctuate based on institutional mission, location, and student majors. The prominent inclusion of earnings data—and the many questions surrounding the integrity and completeness of the entire data set—has led many to question the validity and usefulness of the new tool.

The Department has issued a technical paper outlining the rationale behind the Scorecard and providing further information about the data sources, including the admitted limitations of the federal data set.

Similarly, the White House has released a Fact Sheet that summarizes the justification for the publication of the Scorecard. The Fact Sheet also highlights future efforts the Administration plans to take to “hold higher education institutions to high standards for serving students well,” including expansion of gainful employment regulations, releasing final regulations related to teacher preparation programs, and introducing legislation to reform and expand the campus-based student aid programs.

NAICU stated that the College Scorecard is a “step in the right direction” because it does not include the previously proposed federal ratings of colleges, and the Administration has indicated the tool will allow institutions to tailor their profiles in order to provide proper context for the data—similar to UCAN. NAICU already has begun requesting information from members regarding the impact on their institutions and hopes to work with the Department as the Scorecard evolves to ensure the tool is helpful to families, and fair to all institutions, particularly those that serve a high proportion of low-income students.

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