New tool compares college data

The online database gives prospective students insight into schools’ costs, rankings.

Raju Chaduvula

The College Scorecard initiative launched earlier this month by President Obama marks another effort by the administration to increase the number of Americans with college degrees.
 
The scorecard allows prospective students to compare data such as graduation rates and costs from multiple colleges. The new tool is intended to make choosing the right college easier for students and parents, and though some education experts say the scorecard is an improvement from previous ranking methods, some say it could potentially downplay individual schools’ unique characteristics.
 
Karen Hanson, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost at the University of Minnesota, said the scorecard makes looking for colleges easier, particularly for first generation students.
 
According to a White House press release, the scorecard has data that’s not included in other ranking systems, like former students’ earnings and borrowers’ repayment rates.
 
While the scorecards list in-depth financial details of each college, they lack information about programs’ quality and content, Hanson said.
 
Laura Bloomberg, an educational administration expert at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, said she thinks the scorecard is better than other previous ranking systems.
 
But some details, like average earnings of graduates, included on most rating systems and the scorecard, don’t really help the student, she said, because certain majors offer different wages upon graduation than others. She said wages can also change throughout time.
 
“In my mind, that kind of information is better reviewed in a discipline-specific way,” she said.
 
Bloomberg said it is students’ job to know what they are looking for in a college. She said there are many factors that go into choosing a college beyond costs and graduation rates. 
 
The important thing for students is to know what individual school best fits them, which can get lost in rankings, she said.
 
“When we are rating colleges … we are deciding what is important to the consumer,” she said. “I’m not sure we should be doing that.” 
 
Steve Kelley, a STEM education policy expert at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, said rankings and comparisons explain what is comparable between universities but don’t look at the diversity or uniqueness of each university.
 
“A ranking system runs the risk of undervaluing some of that diversity,” he said.
 
The University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents is reviewing a proposed “Progress Card” that would track similar figures to Obama’s scorecard like graduation rates, research spending and facilities conditions.
 
The regents will decide whether they want to approve the idea at its next board meeting in October.