Scoring the College Scorecard

Guidance counselors say many students don't know about it

A year after the Department of Education released its new version of the College Scorecard, Sarah Brown highlights its successes and shortcomings in the Chronicle of Higher Education

The revamped College Scorecard is a user friendly college-search tool that provides key data points for schools such as average annual cost, academic offerings, graduation and retention rates, and the average salary of students who attended the college ten years after first enrolling.

The Department of Education intends for the tool to ensure that students—especially those from low-income and first-generation backgrounds—have access to reliable information about different colleges.

In many ways, Brown writes, the College Scorecard has succeeded in its intention. According to the department, almost 1.5 million unique users have visited the Scorecard online this year, and experts say it's a "significant step forward for accountability in higher education," according to Brown.

The department has also been prudent about keeping the Scorecard updated with new data, which is promising for its future after President Obama leaves office.

The problem with the Scorecard, however, is that high school students are not seeking it out on their own, Brown writes. College counseling experts say that many students don't know about the Scorecard or are only using it alongside a parent or counselor.

High school students often can't make sense of the data on costs and outcomes or put the data into context, according to Greg Johnson, COO of Bottom Line, a nonprofit organization that helps low-income students apply for college. 

Also see: What we learned about prospective college students by "shopping" for their feedback

A College Board study earlier this year found that the only aspect of the College Scorecard that does influence students' choices is its earnings data. And even then, "salary information isn't a focus for many students who are still in the college search process," says Johnson.

Johnson says that students often don't focus on salary and earnings until they're already enrolled in college and considering majors.

The salary data also raise concerns among experts who wish the Scorecard offered more subjective student learning outcomes. Labor market outcomes, they argue, should not be the only measure of a college degree's value. 

What schools are saying about the College Scorecard

Despite its shortcomings, the College Scorecard has been influential in terms of providing outside developers with useful data. The Scorecard offers a downloadable version, which makes it possible for other comparison tools such as College Abacus and Schoold to use the Scorecard to inform their own services and create better products.

The Department of Education says that so far more than 600 developers have accessed the College Scorecard's interface and data (Brown, Chronicle of Higher Education, 9/28).

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Demystifying this year's SAT scores

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