Unlike most college rating platforms, the scorecard contains a plethora of useful data that is usually unavailable from the private sector. Although prefacing by saying the data is based on students who have received federal grants and loans, the site contains income information, not just for recent grads, but also containing 10-year median income for graduates and loan default rates. The search-engine styled site also contains net costs for students from high-income and low-income families, as well as the ethnic diversity of particular colleges.
In August 2013, President Obama announced a plan for the U.S. Government to create a platform to rank the more than 7,000 institutions of higher education in format similar to the popular U.S. News and World Report ratings. The proposal was initially well-received by the public, but many college presidents and education associations began a strong pushback against the initiative, which was scheduled to launch by 2015. In his Saturday radio address, the president said that the administration was abandoning the idea; however instead it was launching a new web-based “scorecard” that would provide a generous amount of data regarding each school. The website, collegescorecard.ed.gov, contains the typical information regarding colleges in universities found in other publications, like graduation rates, tuition costs, and average salaries upon graduation. It does not, however, rank schools in comparison with each other. Praising the new site in his address, President Obama said, “Americans will now have access to reliable data on every institution of higher education.”
Unlike most college rating platforms, however, the scorecard contains a plethora of useful data that is usually unavailable from the private sector. Although prefacing by saying the data is based on students who have received federal grants and loans, the site contains income information, not just for recent grads, but also containing 10-year median income for graduates and loan default rates. The search-engine styled site also contains net costs for students from high-income and low-income families, as well as the ethnic diversity of particular colleges. Sara Goldrick-Rab, professor of education policy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison said about the 171 megabytes of data contained in the directory, “We had some information college by college before, but we didn’t have most of these outcomes here.” President Obama said in his address that the tool will help families “navigate the complicated college process and make informed decisions.”
The unveiling comes as Obama’s original idea was met with heavy protestation, especially from presidents of highly-established universities, who argued that such ratings would be a disincentive for schools to focus on lower-earning majors like history and philosophy in favor of programs in business or engineering. New York’s College of Mount Saint Vincent president Charles L. Flynn Jr, called idea at the time “uncharacteristically clueless,” and Adam F. Faulk, president of Massachusetts’s Williams College called the rating system “oversimplified to the point that it actually misleads.” The president made clear his desire to “shake up the current” system when he made the 2013 announcement, saying “Taxpayers shouldn’t be subsidizing students to go to schools where the kids aren’t graduating.” Even last year in an interview, top Obama administration domestic policy advisor Cecilia Muñoz responded to complaints from college presidents lobbying for a change of heart by saying, “this is happening.” Obama had wanted to link access to federal funding based on certain metrics, as the administration has done regarding a large portion of for-profit institutions in recent years.
The president did not go as far as crediting the lobbying efforts against the ratings plan as the reason for the change. Instead in his address, Obama cited development issues and concerns that the rating system would be confusing to some families as resulting in the scorecard system. Notably however, data furnished by the website will have no bearing on the federal student aid or other funding. National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities president David L. Warren tentatively believes the scorecard should help families make informed decisions, saying “This is a step in that direction. It also appears that the tool will allow colleges and universities to tailor their profiles, which allows for showcasing the diversity of institutions nationwide.” Even with the change, the scorecard still faced some criticism within the industry. The American Council on Education has complained that the system does not separate the 10-year earnings by major, creating only aggregate figures for all graduates, as well as criticizing the data for only including students who receive loans and grants. For its part, the administration has claimed that the numbers for those who receive federal funding are roughly the same as those who don’t.
PS: Ohio State University president Michael V. Drake was reported to have said upon Obama’s announcement that he was scrapping the ranking system, “WOWIE! That’s so super awesome we don’t got to tell nobody that we don’t really got no good learners!”
(It may not be possible to independently verify the previous quote).
Los Angeles Times – Larry Gordon
New York Times – Michael D. Shear
NPR – Corey Turner