Divided We Learn

Change is on the way for the College Scorecard

In its current state, the College Scorecard is not very useful for low-income students

The U.S. Department of Education is planning to add a lot more data to its College Scorecard, the online database of information about two- and four-year colleges and universities. It has been heavily criticized for lacking information on the earnings and debt for college students.

Users can look up individual institutions to find details on cost, graduation rate, student body demographics and other characteristics. But in its current state, the College Scorecard is not very useful for low-income students because it promotes selective (and often expensive) institutions, such as Harvard, Yale and Stanford, said Diane Auer Jones, assistant secretary for postsecondary education at the U.S. Department of Education. It also doesn’t let users compare programs within the same institution, said Mark Schneider, director of the Institute of Education Sciences, a research arm of the department.

Auer Jones and Schneider spoke with a room full of journalists last week about the agency’s plans for additions to the scorecard. They were guests at the Education Writers Association’s higher education conference, which was hosted at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

In its next iteration, “we’ll have wages and debt at the program level,” said Schneider.

Right now, the College Scorecard includes a list of each school’s five most popular degree programs and a list of all its academic program offerings. There’s also general information on the average graduation rate for all students and median salary data for graduates who took out loans.

Auer Jones said the department will be adding information on graduate and professional degree programs. Currently, the scorecard only includes information on undergraduate programs.

Between 2014 and 2024, the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects a 13.8 percent increase in the number of jobs that typically require a master’s degree and a 12.2 percent increase for jobs that typically require a doctoral or professional degree.

“We know that at the graduate school level, that’s where students take on the lion’s share of debt. And while we agree that these are informed consumers, we have an obligation to give them the information to make informed decisions,” Auer Jones said.

Students pursuing an advanced degree in the 2015-2016 school year borrowed on average $18,210 – more than three times the average for what undergrads borrowed that year, according to a report from the Urban Institute, a think tank. That year, master’s and professional degree students made up 17 percent of federal student loan borrowers but accounted for 38 percent of federal loans.

Changes to the College Scorecard, Auer Jones said, also will help keep for-profit schools accountable. Some, such as Corinthian Colleges’ 28 for-profit schools, closed under the Obama administration after being fined by the Department of Education for misrepresenting job placement data for graduates and other infractions.

Auer Jones worked in the for-profit education sector before joining the current administration. “Some of the advertising and marketing practices were their downfall,” she said. U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ support of publishing median debt and median earnings data at the program level will, Auer Jones said, “stop the false advertising, or at least you make it much more difficult for an institution to get away with it and you make it much easier for them to be caught.”

The officials did not say when College Scorecard changes will be implemented.

This story about the College Scorecard was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for the Hechinger newsletter.

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Delece Smith-Barrow

Delece Smith-Barrow is a senior editor for higher education at The Hechinger Report. She was a 2017 Knight-Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan, where… See Archive

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