College Scorecard: A step toward transparency

Last year The White House launched the College Scorecard website that appears to be a great start to providing access to reliable data on every American institution of higher education.

Although the site is short of the goals the White House proposed when discussing a new “Ranking System” the Scorecard does not attempt to rate schools with any kind of grade, but it does provide valuable information to prospective students and their parents about annual costs, graduation rates and salaries after graduation.

I applaud the effort as a good example of how the federal government can add value to education. Just look at the insight I gained by quickly comparing 3 of the public Arizona Universities.

The New York Times reported in its Upshot column, that the “Gaps in Earnings” is one of the most vital elements to evaluate between and among colleges.

There is actually much more that is interesting. Including how institutions fulfill their unique missions and particularly their commitments to providing access to those at all all income levels of society.

Indeed, just reviewing the Arizona data is interesting — as you see the differences in cost and 10 year average salary information. It may not have been obvious to many, but Arizona State University not only costs less but produces higher average salaries after ten years. Despite being nearly twice the size, 9% more students appear to graduate from ASU than from NAU.

Colleges give prospective students very little information about how much money they can expect to earn in the job market. In part that’s because colleges may not want people to know, and in part it’s because such information is difficult and expensive to gather. Colleges are good at tracking down rich alumni to hit up for donations, but people who make little or no money are harder and less lucrative to find.

However, I also agree with Sara Goldrick-Rab who suggests that the College Scorecard is for “Analysis Not Action”. In her post, she correctly reminds us that U.S. Department of Education data can now be misused by “people running all over Twitter proclaiming that the data shows that X college is better than Y college. Or that students can now decide what college to attend using this data.”

Goldrick-Rab suggests that “if you’re a student or parent, you can peruse the data to test your assumptions. Did you think College X admitted a lot of low-income students or had a high overall graduation rate? Maybe you’re wrong. Good to know. You can see who pays what and where. Do not rule out a college or decide on one using this information.

Fundamentally, the College Scorecard is about transparency . Students, families and tax-payers who fund the cost of college are wise to expect such clarity when investing in a higher education.

We can learn much from the data but it is just as likely that we will be left with even more questions about the real purpose of college and how, as a nation, we invest in building the capacity of our nation to contribute to the rapidly changing economy and well-being of our communities.

Originally published at www.linkedin.com.

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