The US Department of Education updated the earnings data on the College Scorecard in September 2018, and as Clare McCann (New America) shared, “deleted some valuable details off the consumer website designed to help students and families make informed choices about where to go to college.”
The USDOE deleted net price, graduation rates, repayment rates and typical earnings. If you are not familiar with those terms, think about what you consider when shopping for cars. You review MSRP and fair price, resale value, and loan repayment rates. However, a college education, whose value appreciates over time, may have a sticker price of $100,000 for a public university.
Another missing feature will be the national comparison to other schools. They showed you if the school was above or below the national average. What once benefited the consumer now benefits the college. While parents and students can compare up to ten colleges, you won’t see the national median. A USDOE spokeswoman said the change reflects a desire for students to compare similar colleges and programs rather than national averages.
In 2015, the College Scorecard was designed to allow families to make informed choices, especially if they didn’t have access to a school counselor or educational consultant. The intent was to measure access, affordability, and performance of each college to inform prospective college students about their choices. This may still be a disadvantage if the parents don’t know how to compare majors, costs, or test scores.
McCann continues by asking if students can compare colleges using the scorecard. She shares that one prominent researcher, Nick Hillman, wrote to the Department about his research, “[i]n education deserts where there are no public broad-access options, prospective students are likely to find colleges that are either too selective to attend or that charge high tuition without commensurate labor market returns.” For students without good higher education options nearby, he wrote, “regulators have an even greater responsibility to protect consumers.”
It seems that the College Scorecard may not be the reliable source needed to keep colleges accountable and offer students a way to compare their possibilities. This is one reason why private companies, independent educational consultants, and large non-profit organizations remain relevant. Consumers need a way to make wise financial decisions, especially where the scorecard falls short.
I discovered that the search for cost by major may not yield the desired outcomes. I’m was expecting that history majors, mathematics majors, and education majors would have different salaries (as identified by IRS documents) after ten years. This was not true. The College Scorecard does not differentiate by major. If they offer that program (theology), the school will appear on the list. While the NAICU is fighting this data point citing privacy concerns, I think comparing colleges by major/program is a good idea. It’s going to be hard since 100% of psychology majors are not working in the psychology industry.
Richard Vedder observed that the jobs earning data could be helpful to consumers and colleges alike. “If a college is turning out large number of, say, sociology majors whose earnings after attending average only $33,000 (in part because many take jobs as baristas or Uber drivers), but a smaller number of economics majors average $50,000 a year, perhaps the school should redirect more of its resources to training economists, and less to promoting sociology.”
We are all in favor of improving the College Scorecard. McCann writes that “updates to the site should come in the form of better, clearer information to consumers, not less transparency or harder-to-parse information.” To the Department of Education, she recommended that it’s critical to “[e]stablish a reference point for outcomes data on the Scorecard,” because “[r]esearch has shown that comparative information is more effective as a disclosure than information provided in a vacuum.”
As a consumer, you can use the College Scorecard as a springboard to view of the college landscape. As you are praying about your decisions, discuss your questions and concerns with a professional like a certified financial planner, independent educational consultant, or your school counselor. We want you to make the best decision for your student!
Combining my youth ministry and educational consulting experience, I guide students to connect higher education with God's calling.