A closer look at the College Scorecard

Michael Blackson

Professor Foster handed me the National section of the New York Times newspaper as we talked in the Chryst building lobby. I circled several times in black pen “Scorecard For Colleges Needs Work, Experts Say,” an article he pointed out to me inside the State of the Union piece. I rarely read the New York Times, yet Foster seemed confident I’d enjoy it. He even mentioned it would make a great piece in The Snapper. I gave it a shot.
President Obama mentioned many topics during his State of the Union address, but for college students, the topic of higher education is awfully obvious. The article highlights, as the title suggests, a scorecard for colleges. What could this possibly mean? The White House unveiled an interactive College Scorecard website the day before the address that promises to show “where you can get the most bang for your educational buck,” according to President Obama.
I was intrigued. An interactive college website by the federal government has to show detailed, in-depth information for prospective students in any higher education institution. So, how much work could it possibly need? I wanted to see for myself. Once I was able to pull up the Internet, I hopped onto Google, and searched ‘White House interactive College Scorecard’. It’s the first result. Upon clicking on the link, you are transported to the White House website, and directly to the College Scorecard.
What do we have here then? A couple lines of directions – which you should read, like professors recommend when you take exams – and two sections to identify colleges in the United States. The first one is simple: do you know the institution’s name? If not, you have a second and more expanded option to display colleges of your interest. You have choices ranging from degree and major to distance education and even campus setting.
Thankfully, I rightfully attend Millersville University – whoa, there it is. Before I could even finish Millersville, the search bar brings up Millersville University of Pennsylvania. The college scorecard gives you five categories on the college of your choice: costs, graduation rate, loan default rate, median borrowing, and employment.
Screen shot 2013-02-26 at 5.22.37 PMFor the sake of how useful this scorecard could be for high school and other prospective students, let’s compare Millersville University to another PASSHE institution, say, Bloomsburg University. It’s cheaper to attend Millersville than Bloomsburg with a $1,255 difference; more full-time students graduate within six years from Millersville than Bloomsburg with a 3.4 percent difference; students who attend either college, however, will borrow the same amount of about $17,500. Not surprisingly, this information is only skimming the surface. There are links available on the scorecard, allowing the most interested and devoted students to delve deeper into the categories provided.
That may be for the best. Noted in the New York Times article, the information gathered on the scorecard are a few years old. But my own observation shows that the numbers may be timely and accurate. I clicked on ‘More Information’ at the top of the scorecard and scrolled all the way to the bottom. In fine print, it reads, “Download the date file used for the College Scorecards (last updated 2013).” After looking through some of the numbers, the Excel sheet is accurate to what the scorecards say. So, either the article is wrong, or the government is wrong. I’ll let you decide.
The article, however, mentions that there are other sites that have had this information readily available previous to this unveiling. One of them mentioned is the White House’s very own College Navigator site. Between the two, and this is my opinion, the College Scorecard is cleaner, and more pleasing to the eye to navigate.
Let’s say I am a senior in high school, preparing myself for the harsh environment known as higher education. Remember that second option of the scorecard? It’s right there, just below the first, simpler option, and looks attractive and still simple to navigate.
Back to the scenario: I am a high school student interested in the communications and journalism field, where I hope to pursue a career in public relations or being a reporter. I want a college that’s in a rural or suburban area because living in Philadelphia is too much city for me, it must be within 250 miles of the 19151 zip code while keeping inside Pennsylvania, and I want to at least attain my Bachelor’s degree.
I press ‘Search Institution’ and viola; I am taken to a list of colleges that fit me. None of the choices were Millersville University, sadly, but some choices I noticed were West Chester, Indiana, and a couple community colleges. You can click any of them, taking you to the aforementioned categories, and begin researching.
Out of these five categories, one of them remains incomplete for a while – employment. The New York Times article boasts this was supposed to be the site’s highly anticipated element; instead, it tells you that the U.S. Department of Education is working on it. In the meantime, you could talk to your college about how graduates are faring financially and the careers they are employed in. Because according to the article, the 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act prohibits the government from keeping track of millions of people’s educational backgrounds.
Other than that, the only argument critics have had against this site, as I hopefully revealed, is that this data was readily available before this site was unveiled. That’s it.
The College Scorecard is cleaner, sleeker, and although you cannot compare colleges side-by-side, compacting so much data into one entirely makes up for it. Even though this information might be late for college students, its attractive design and comprehensive data compacted into one make it a valuable resource. I encourage everyone to learn whether your current or prospective college gives you the biggest bang for your educational buck by delving deeper than I have and see what you find.