There’s not doubt that choosing a college can be one of the most difficult decisions a young person will ever make. There’s the “where I want to go” vs. the ”where can I afford to go?” The cost of college tuition seems to increase every year. It gets harder and harder to get into the really top schools. Can mom and dad help with your costs or are you on your own? How much financial aid can you expect to get? Have you already chosen your major or are you still undecided?
These are all critical questions and how you answer them will have a large bearing on how much money you will need to borrow and how long it will take you to repay your loans. They will also play a large part in how you spend the rest of your life. Of course, the ultimate question is do you really need to go to college? Some of America’s most successful people including Microsoft’s founders Paul Allen and Bill Gates didn’t graduate from college nor did computer visionary Steve Jobs.
If you’re struggling to get an answer all or most of these questions our federal government wants to help. It recently debuted a new online tool that offers information regarding costs, graduation rates and how much you could expect to earn given your field of study. The website is called The College Scoreboard and can be found at CollegeScorecard.ED.gov.
The information provided
What this website provides is a sort of picture of what you might earn if you graduated from one of these schools, how much debt you would have and what percentage of those that graduated from the schools repaid their loans.
In announcing this redesigned website, Pres. Obama said, “Everyone should be able to find clear, reliable, open data on college affordability and value. Many existing college rankings reward schools for spending more money and rejecting more students – at a time when America needs more colleges to focus on affordability and supporting all students who enroll.”
What the website offers
This website makes choosing a college easier because it enables you to search by major, location, size and graduation rate, among other factors. The new, updated version offers data designed to help students choose a school given its costs and after-college earnings potential. A spokesman for the Department of Education noted that The College Scorecard provides the first look at the earnings after college of students that attended the 7,000 schools in the site’s database.
As an example of how the website works a high school senior could find the percentage of those at a specific school that earned more than if they had gotten a job just out of high school. The site also displays the median earnings of former students at 10 years after they had begun school and compares this to the national average. In addition, the website can be searched by percentage of those that graduated, how much debt they typically had and how much a student would have to make in monthly payments. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said, “Students deserve to know their investment of resources and hard-work in college is going to pay off.”
How the site works
Choosing a college using The College Scoreboard is very easy. If you go to the site you will find five options – Programs/Degrees, Location, Size, Name and Advanced Search. If you were to start by clicking on Programs/Degrees you would then have two choices – Choose a degree or Choose a program.
Clicking on Choose a program opens a window displaying 38 possible programs ranging from Agriculture to Visual and Performing Arts. If you were to choose Engineering you would next choose a location and then school size ranging from small (less than 2,000) to large (more than 15,000). After you fill in all your answers you would click on Find Schools. The website will then display a list of the schools that matched your criteria with the average actual cost of each, graduation rate and salary after graduation. As an example of this if you had selected engineering and the state of Georgia but had indicated no preference as to school size you would see 14 results including Emery University with an average annual cost of $28,463, a graduation rate of 89% and a $59,000 a year salary after attending. Select View More Details and you could then get more information about Financial Aid and Debt, Graduation & Retention, and Earnings After School. You can also choose SAT/ACT scores and see the average scores in these categories of those that had been admitted.
Why the original site was scuttled
Obama’s administration had originally planned to include a system for ranking schools on their affordability and return on investment. However, many of those in higher education quickly criticized the idea because of their concern that these rankings would be unfair and subjective. The initial idea was also to use the ratings as the basis for handing out billions of federal dollars in financial aid. However, this idea was scuttled. This new version of The College Scorecard is designed to offer students the data that would help them make good choices and then reach their own conclusions.
Not perfect yet
Those higher education leaders who had opposed the original grading system tentatively welcomed the new version but said they felt it still needed work. For example the president of the American Council on Education, Molly Corbett Broad, said she understood the need for having good data about the earnings of college graduates but also noted, “Developing a system of this size and scope is a complicated and nuanced endeavor and the department has done so without any external review.” She also said that there were still significant limitations in the data provided such as just one number for earnings for an entire school regardless of whether the student had majored in early childhood education, mathematics or economics. Despite these shortcomings there are college search sites such as ScholarMatch and StartClass that are using this new scorecard to help people do customized searches.