Making Rank: Helping Families Select the Best College or University

Macmillan Employee
Macmillan Employee
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Two years ago during the State of the Union address, President Obama set his sights on reforming the higher education system. While he firmly endorsed higher education as pivotal to this country’s workforce development efforts, he resolutely condemned the skyrocketing costs to attend college. He proposed sweeping financial aid reform and trained his sights on reforming the for profit sector. The linchpin in Obama’s proposal was a higher education rating system that would correlate value and cost among America’s colleges and universities.

President Obama and Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, continued to build momentum for a higher ed scorecard at an August 2013 speech at the University of Buffalo. The scorecard would decode America’s colleges and universities, making key data points about graduation rates, pricing, and salary upon graduation easy to find and review. The scorecard would effectively provide prospective college students and their families with important information for a big decision—college selection. Obama even hinted at linking federal funding to the scorecard. As with most innovative ideas, the plan for creating this scorecard received heavy criticism. Pundits and university presidents alike, were critical of a scorecard with uneven data points and worried that certain schools would receive unfair and unseemly distinctions. Even supporters of the scorecard were concerned about the quality of the data. Molly Corbett Broad, the president of the American Council on Education, the largest higher education trade organization stated “It depends on having complete and accurate data, and there are some areas where the Department of Education does have good data, but others where it does not.”

Fast forward to the start of fall classes, and the White House quietly unveiled the newest version of the
college scorecard website. The resulting website is a far cry from the ambitious plan to assign value to America’s higher education institutions. Instead of raw scores, the site publishes open-source data on individual institution costs, graduation rates and student debt and earnings. According to the White House, the newest version of the college scorecard “will use technology and open data to make it possible for anyone ... to decide what factors to evaluate."

While Obama and his administration ultimately relented to loud criticism about the scorecard, the resulting effort is not a failure. Students, families, and guidance counselors now have a powerful repository of unbiased data to inform college selections. While outlets such as US News and World Report publish annual college rankings, students are relying on the opinions of editors and thought leaders to rank schools. The government utilizes its own data to power dashboards on average annual cost, debt, graduation rates, and more topics.

What do you think of the college scorecard? Share your thoughts in the comment section!