College Scorecard: What It Is and What It Isn't

The White House revealed the new College Scorecard website in early September.  The purpose of the College Scorecard is to increase transparency among colleges, primarily in an effort to aid students in the process of selecting the institution of higher education that best fits their goals.  The categories of data provided for each institution include average SAT/ACT scores of students admitted to the institution, graduation and retention rates, average annual cost of attendance, percentage of students receiving federal loans, typical total debt, and average salary after attending.  The data utilized spans a period of 20 years, from 1996 through 2015, and includes all undergraduate degree-granting higher education institutions.

While all of this information being aggregated into one centralized location will without a doubt be beneficial to students’ and families’ college searches, students should ensure that they understand what the data represents.  For example, the average salary after attending a higher education institution actually represents the median earnings of former students who received federal financial aid 10 years after enrolling in the institution.  As a result, the population of students who do not receive federal financial aid and drop-out students are not factored into the analysis.  Furthermore, the earnings figure is not geared toward any specific major, and encompasses all majors offered by the institution.  In addition, the scorecard only includes institutions that participate in Title IV funding.  Other wrinkles include how transfer students who graduate from community colleges are excluded from the criteria.  As the scorecard attempts to increase students’ and families’ understanding about the “cost” of attending college, it is important to keep in mind its limitations.

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