Fact Sheet: Empowering Students to Choose the College that is Right for Them
Increasing the number of Americans with college degrees is a key part of President Obama’s strategy to grow the economy and ensure that prosperity is shared widely. For students, higher education may be the single most important investment they can make in their futures to ensure they have the knowledge and skills needed to compete in an increasingly global marketplace.
With college costs and student debt on the rise, the choices that American families make when searching for and selecting a college have never been more important. Yet, students struggle to find clear, reliable data on critical questions of college affordability and value, such as whether they are likely to graduate, find middle-class jobs, and pay off their loans. At a time when America needs colleges to focus on affordability and supporting all students who enroll, many existing college rankings reward schools for spending more money and rejecting more students. And college leaders and state policymakers who seek to improve institutions’ performance often lack reliable ways to determine how well their schools are serving students.
That is why today, President Obama announced new steps from the Department of Education to help students, parents, and their advisers make better college choices including:
- A new College Scorecard – at CollegeScorecard.ed.gov – redesigned with direct input from students, families, and their advisers to provide the clearest, most accessible, and most reliable national data on college cost, graduation, debt, and post-college earnings. This new College Scorecard can empower Americans to rate colleges based on what matters most to them; to highlight colleges that are serving students of all backgrounds well; and to focus on making a quality, affordable education within reach. The old way of assessing college choices relied on static ratings lists compiled by someone who was deciding what value to place on different factors. The new way of assessing college choices, with the help of technology and open data, makes it possible for anyone – a student, a school, a policymaker, or a researcher – to decide what factors to evaluate.
- New, comprehensive and updated data on higher education institutions. For the first time, the public can access the most reliable and comprehensive data on students’ outcomes at specific colleges, including former students’ earnings, graduates’ student debt, and borrowers’ repayment rates. These data are also available for various sub-groups, like first-generation and Pell students. Because these data will be published through an open application programming interface (API), researchers, policymakers, and members of the public can customize their own analysis of college performance more quickly and easily.
Customized tools for students, with 11 organizations already using these data to launch new tools. Today, ScholarMatchStartClass and College Abacus, three college search resources, are using this new, unique data that help students search for, compare, and develop a list of colleges based on the outcomes data that the Department is making available to the public for the first time. PayScale, which offers consumers a large salary database, will use the new data to analyze various colleges’ return-on-investment for different student groups while InsideTrack, which is a team of coaches and consultants working to improve student outcomes, will use the data to develop and implement effective student-centered initiatives. ProPublica, a non-profit investigative journalism newsroom, has built a tool with the open data to help consumers make more informed decisions.
Access to better data will help students choose colleges that will help them learn, graduate, and find jobs. Access to better data will help colleges assess how well they help all types of students succeed during and after college. Better information can unite students, parents, advisers, policymakers, and institutions on goals to lower costs and to help more students graduate.
The New College Scorecard
The release of the new College Scorecard marks a continued effort to work with and learn from students, parents, counselors, and others to ensure that the Department is providing user-friendly data; easy-to-understand information on college opportunity, cost, and value; and supports for students and families as they search for and select a college suitable to their academic, career and financial goals. Specifically, today, the Administration is:
Releasing a new College Scorecard to give students, families, and advisers the key facts they need: The U.S. Digital Service, in collaboration with teams at the Departments of Education, Treasury, and the General Service Administration’s 18F, leveraged cutting-edge technology practices focused on the key principles of User-Centered Design and Agile Development to build a College Scorecard tool that further commits to the Administration’s Open Data Initiative to spark innovation and economic growth, and enables students and families to make the best bang for buck college choice.
- User-Centered Design: To design a tool based on the user’s needs, the U.S. Digital Service and team from GSA’s 18F engaged directly with users at every stage of the project – students (both high school and adult), parents, guidance counselors and advisers, open data users, and people who wrote to the President about this issue - about what information they needed to make this decision easier. Long before even the first line of software code was written, the team was working with students and testing paper prototypes to make sure they were as easy-to-use as possible.
- Open Data: The teams also went to work with the Federal Government’s data from over 7,000 colleges and universities, going back 18 years, and integrated the data into an open API that would be the engine for the site and also the source of open data for external software developers or researchers who want to make tools with the data. This approach means the College Scorecard effort is one of the first government efforts that is not only releasing open data, but is building an important tool on top of that very same open data. It’s common practice for America’s best tech companies, and a modern approach for the government.
- Agile Development: Instead of using a “waterfall” process where design is fixed from the onset, the timeline could last for years, and the technology and needs at the start of the project are often drastically different than when the project is completed, the team used Agile development. To deliver the right product -- what students families actually need-- as efficiently as possible, the U.S. Digital Service and GSA’s 18F built the new College Scorecard using an approach that allows the team to work in short sprints, test, scale, and design the tool in iterations based on constant changes in technology and user needs, that is more efficient and avoids locking in costly assumptions about what features would be needed.
Publishing new, more useful data in the new College Scorecard, including:
- Employment outcomes: The College Scorecard contains the first-ever comprehensive and reliable data on post-college earnings for students who attended all types of undergraduate institutions, based upon tax records. While increased earnings may be only one of many reasons to go to college, many students consider their future career prospects when making an investment in their education. Specifically, the new Scorecard includes: (1) the proportion of former students earning over $25,000, which is the average earnings of high school graduates, six years after enrolling and (2) the median earnings of students 10 years after they enroll in college.
- Student-level outcomes data: The College Scorecard publishes data from the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS), which ED has used to manage and track grants and loans since the 1990s. The data can be used to produce a variety of new institutional performance metrics including (1) median cumulative loan debt, (2) repayment rate, and (3) completion and transfer rates, all by various student sub-groups.
Supporting higher education leaders, policymakers, researchers, and developers who are improving measures of college performance and helping colleges set benchmarks and improve performance, through efforts that:
- Expedite new tools, research and policy analysis: The new College Scorecard tool is built on top of an open API, which makes it easier for software developers and researchers to extract, customize, and build upon the data to support students and families to help them make better college choices. The API will also make it easier and faster for developers, researchers, and policymakers to leverage specific data and methods to advance knowledge of how to assess and strengthen institutions’ performance. These data on graduation and transfer rates, debt and loan performance, and earnings for each school, broken down for first-generation, low-income, and other key subgroups of students, are now vastly more accessible than ever before.
Share research and methodologies for measuring college performance: The White House Council of Economic Advisers’ research on various methodological approaches to measuring college performance, published in a report entitled “Using Federal Data to Measure & Improve Performance,” can advance efforts to strengthen college opportunity and outcomes for students from all backgrounds. Moreover, while no single metric captures all of the purposes, missions, and outcomes of a diverse array of American colleges, universities, community colleges, and career colleges, the Department of Education offers three examples of methodologies to highlight high-performing colleges in its report entitled “Better Information for Better College Choices and College Performance.” These methodologies and high-performing schools are:
- Colleges that serve as “engines of opportunity” by contributing to mobility into the middle class through offering an affordable education to many low-income students, such as SUNY-Albany, UC-Irvine, Lake Area Technical College, and Mount Aloysius College;
- Colleges with “excellence in outcomes,” by boasting the highest outcomes across a set of measures including completion rates, labor market outcomes, and loan performance, such as Harvey Mudd, University of Maryland-College Park, Coleman University, and Bismarck State College; and
- Colleges that offer “financial value,” by providing positive labor market outcomes at a low cost, including Barnard College, James Madison University, Cabarrus College of Health Sciences, and Colorado Northwestern Community Colleges.
Strengthening partnerships with the higher education community by providing the best information and tools on college quality through:
- Continued consumer testing with students and counselors to optimize the College Scorecard’s features and capabilities to support students’ college choice process.
- Annual releases of each new cohort, including new data on part-time, transfer, and Pell recipient graduation rates and program-level earnings data for the 2012 cohorts.
- Technical Review Panels to explore how to strengthen data collection and use data in ways that can inform college choice and institutional performance models.
New capabilities created with the open API, customized to serve a variety of students and counselors, including:
- Better college search and choice tools: Today, ScholarMatch, StartClass, and College Abacus, three online search tools, will incorporate the new data to help students search for, compare, and develop a list of colleges based on outcome metrics from the College Scorecard. Later this month, Noodle, and the HelloCollege app will launch their enhancements, while College Greenlight and I'm First plan to launch theirs in 2016.
- New outcomes and metrics: PayScale, which has been publishing college return-on-investment data by institution since 2010, is producing new information using the Department’s newly published data on how ROI differs at 1,000 colleges for students from a range of economic backgrounds in its 2016 PayScale College ROI Report.
- Better advising and support for students: InsideTrack, which is a team of coaches and consultants working to improve student outcomes, will use the data to help its partners develop and implement effective student-centered initiatives.
- More comprehensive rankings with new outcomes data: Niche.com will release a new Best Value Colleges ranking on September 28th. Today, ProPublica, a non-profit investigative journalism newsroom is releasing a tool with the open data to help consumers make more informed decisions.
Building on the Administration’s efforts hold higher education institutions to high standards for serving students well, including ongoing efforts to:
- Fight congressional rollbacks on the “Gainful Employment” rules that require poor-performing programs at career colleges – which are leaving over 800,000 students with debts they cannot afford – to either improve performance or else lose eligibility for federal financial aid;
- Finalize proposed rules that require states to identify low-performing teacher education programs; and
- Propose legislation that would pay colleges for results, not just enrollment, by reforming the “campus-based” student aid programs to invest over $6 billion in grants, loans, and work-study at colleges that enroll low-income students, graduate them, and allow them to repay their loans successfully.
By making federal data on the performance of U.S. institutions widely available to the public, to policymakers, to researchers, and to the institutions themselves, the Administration hopes the increased transparency will further simulate robust innovation and discovery across the country, with the goal of supporting students as they pursue their academic and career goals through their college education.