Education

Obama’s College Scorecard Plans Full Ratings, But Will Students Use Them?

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Incoming college students this year had an
advantage over their predecessors when it came to choosing a school: the College Scorecard, launched by President Barack Obama in his 2013 State of the Union speech to help prospective students figure out “where you can get the most bang for your educational buck.”

The Scorecard, part of the Obama administration’s online College Affordability and Transparency Center, includes a bevy of stats for each school: average annual net price for undergraduates, graduation rate, loan default rate (national average, according to the site: 14.7 percent), and median monthly loan payment (national average: $172.62). Eventually, the Scorecard will list alumni job data and — in a controversial move — overall ratings for each school, expected to launch by next fall.
A Department of Education spokesperson says that the rating system is still in development and more details about the metrics will be announced soon.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, the Scorecard site has received more than 500,000 unique visits. Yet as it approaches its second anniversary, the College Scorecard
remains little known among college applicants.

“I have never had any students who said they looked at the College Scorecard,” says
Penelope Terry, the director of undergraduate admissions at Brooklyn College.

New York University dean of admissions Shawn L. Abbott agrees: “While students and parents are more and more curious about cost, student debt, loan default rates, graduation rates, and starting salaries, I have yet to
encounter students or families who reference the federal College Scorecard.”

Several city college students who made
college decisions over the last year and a half say they used rankings, but had not heard of
the Scorecard.

“I think it was U.S. News rankings,” says Minneapolis native Xiaoye Jiang, a sophomore photography student at NYU (net price $37,656; graduation rate 85.3 percent; loan default rate 3.6 percent; loan payment $369.29). She says she looked for urban schools where she could get a strong liberal-arts and fine-arts education.

“I’m paying for college myself,” says Dylan Campbell, a native of Bellmore, New York,
and first-year journalism student at Brooklyn
College (net price $5,485; graduation rate 53.8 percent; loan default rate 6.8 percent; loan payment $120.83). “I’m going to be one of the first college graduates in my family, so school being free was a priority.” Campbell had friends who used other ranking systems, but she settled
on Macaulay Honors College, which operates on eight CUNY campuses to offer free tuition to high-achieving students, as soon as she was admitted.

Upon its release, the Scorecard was praised by some education figures — particularly advocates for public universities, whose low tuition could earn them a better showing in federal rankings — and criticized by others as overly simplistic. Tension between the administration and college presidents grew after a Department of Education undersecretary said ranking colleges should be no more difficult than “rating a blender.” Even before the Scorecard was published, the Center for American Progress released a study calling for better market testing. In September, the Penn Graduate School of Education’s Center for Minority Serving Institutions released a report suggesting an alternative scorecard that the authors said would better benefit institutions serving
students of color, first-generation students, and those from low-income backgrounds.

A Department of Education spokesperson says that the government has reached out to higher-education organizations, guidance counselors, and others involved in helping
students choose colleges to let them know about the Scorecard. Brooklyn College admissions director Terry, though, believes students won’t change their ways until they see the federal government as a source for information about colleges, not just a font of financial aid.

“It’s going to take some kind of a marketing endeavor before people really start to use it,” Terry says.