College Scorecard

The benefits of higher education are multi-dimensional, and not all are easily measurable.  The federal government can play an important role in providing individuals with ready access to information to help them choose a college that meets their needs and aspirations.  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.

One source of such information is the College Scorecard. Created during the Obama Administration, the College Scorecard is an interactive tool that allows students to compare institutions of higher education across a broad array of standardized metrics,

While a far superior alternative to the federal postsecondary ratings system originally proposed, the College Scorecard still contains flaws that undermine its overall effectiveness.  Among the concerns is the Scorecard’s focus on limited variables, particularly monetary measures of value.  Reducing the measure of an institution’s worth to two or three numeric factors does not present a full or accurate representation of an institution’s mission and character.  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.


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 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 tool. 

In many respects, the limitations in 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 therefore limited in their ability to guide a student to his/her best-fit college.

Recent Developments 

The Trump Administration made several adjustments to the College Scorecard during its tenure. In 2017, the Department of Education released an updated version of the Scorecard that permits students to create a customized search in which they can compare selected institutions to each other.  Allowing students to create their own comparison groups has been a longtime NAICU policy goal.  Likewise, in 2018, the Department altered the College Scorecard to remove national comparison data that had the potential to provide consumers with a misleading or incomplete impression of an institution’s value.

One of the most significant changes the Trump Administration made to the Scorecard data came in 2019, when the Department updated the tool to include program-level data. Specifically, the Scorecard now contains data on median student debt and earnings by field of study.  Based on a 2020 update, the Scorecard now contains program-level data on median earnings two years after students graduate. NAICU is concerned that this publication of program-level data could amplify calls in Congress to limit eligibility for Title IV financial aid based on a student’s major.

Although no formal plans have been announced, the Biden Administration is likely to follow its predecessors’ lead in terms of maintaining and updating the College Scorecard.


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 actively engaged in discussions of the proposal, wrote letters and op-eds, and participated 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 Scorecard also faced criticism in 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. 

During its tenure, the Trump Administration released several updated versions of the College Scorecard. Under these changes, the Department has provided students with greater flexibility in selecting which schools they wish to compare, eliminated misleading national comparison data, and added median student debt and earnings data at the programmatic level.

What You Can Do

  • Alert NAICU Government Relations staff member Jody Feder 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, and to NAICU Research staff member Jason Ramirez.  


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