Grading Obama’s College Scorecard
In his State of the Union address last Tuesday, President Barack Obama covered a wide range of topics from fixing the federal deficit to immigration and gay rights. One topic that fell slightly under the radar was his three paragraphs on higher education. Obama outlined his two priorities for fixing the rocketing costs of higher education: first, that Congress amends the Higher Education Act to include affordability and value as criteria for which institutions receive financial aid, and second, that a College Scorecard be created for every university nationwide to help families compare schools and find out “where you can get the most bang for your educational buck.”
As a private institution, it is difficult to gauge exactly how Wash. U. would be affected by the standards for affordability. More details on what types of federal aid would be affected by these new standards are necessary to judge the practicality of such standards. And a description of how “value” is being measured, as it is an incredible abstract term, would help as well.
The College Scorecard has 5 components: costs, graduation rate, loan default rate, median borrowing and employment. According to the Scorecard, Wash. U. has a very high graduate rate of 93.4 percent and a much-lower-than-average loan default rate of 3.3 percent, but our net cost of $32,870 is very high as well, and our median borrowing is only medium. The employment statistic is still under construction by the Department of Education.
As it stands right now, the Scorecard is overly simplistic and incomplete. Five components are not nearly enough to measure a college’s value. Their statistics on net cost are from 2009, and tuition costs are completely absent. It does not include any information on whether a school is need-blind in its admissions process. And the feature that would probably most impact the president’s “bang for your buck” criteria, employment, is not even listed yet, at least for Wash. U.
Once the employment rate statistic is ready, hopefully it will address a school’s specialty (i.e., Northwestern’s journalism school or Wash. U.’s pre-medical program) and display rankings for the individual schools, departments or programs within a university. The College of Arts & Sciences’ employment rate is likely quite different from that of the business or engineering schools. And with so many students from Wash. U. choosing to go to law school or medical school after college, the employment rate would need to reflect what percent of graduates continue their educations as well as how many get jobs.
When compared with similar, already-existing tools, the College Scorecard doesn’t make the grade. College Board’s “Big Future” feature, found on its website, is much more useful. The tuition statistics are up-to-date and the page on financial aid is much more detailed than anything on the College Scorecard. Even the U.S. News & World Report College Rankings have valuable information once you get past the questionable ranking methodology.
The College Scorecard has potential to be one of a high school student’s most useful tools in comparing colleges but it is currently not thorough enough to be deemed a success for the president. With work and actual details, it could really change the college selection process for middle-class families; and while it is a step in the right direction, perhaps it should have been kept offline until the actually useful features were ready.