Launch of College Scorecard: Feedback From the IR Community

College-Scorecard.pngThe much-anticipated College Scorecard, designed to provide consumer information to assist students in choosing the best college, was unveiled in September 2015. The tool allows users to search for institutions by name and by factors such as cost, graduation rate, loan default rate, average amount borrowed, and employment data.

AIR reviewed responses to the tool’s launch and reached out to members to learn how institutional researchers are responding to the College Scorecard. The data behind the tool were made readily available for download, and Whitworth University has placed a data file on its Tableau® public site. Whitworth, the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire (UWEC), and doubtless many other institutions are using Tableau® to create visualizations of the data for their institutions and peers. Stony Brook University has focused its peer comparisons on the metrics that are newly available in this tool, including data on earnings, debt, and repayment rates. UWEC, Stony Brook, and Duquesne University described preparation of reports to brief institutional leadership and communications staff on their institution’s data on the College Scorecard.

The higher education community is also responding to the launch of the College Scorecard. The Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) released a statement indicating that, until a student unit record system exists, the College Scorecard data “offer a much-needed step towards transparency in higher education that can help advance quality outcomes for all students.” Like IHEP, the Brookings Institution applauded the tool’s inclusion of outcomes measures. However, Brookings also warned of the College Scorecard’s creators’ seeming confusion of correlation with causation when presenting data on earnings, as there are many factors beyond the institution attended that impact a graduate’s salary potential. Likewise, Patricia McGuire, president of Trinity University, summarized her own initial analysis of the data in a blog post on the Huffington Post. McGuire’s analysis, comparing private schools to Catholic schools, women’s colleges, and HBCUs, showed that the top salary schools in various categories had very different earnings based on the characteristics of their students, with an institution’s percentage of women and students of color correlated with lower earnings.

Other limitations are evident in the College Scorecard. First, the tool excludes institutions primarily awarding certificates, leaving about 17 percent of community colleges out of the Scorecard. The Department is reviewing this omission and promises a solution soon. Secondly, many of the metrics newly available to the public in this tool are limited to data on students who received federal aid, limiting generalizability. Salary data are additionally problematic given that they are not displayed by major of study, so average salaries for each institution are based on very wide ranges. Finally, confusion also exists about the difference between this tool and the College Navigator, and whether the two tools will continue to separately exist, or whether their data might be merged at some point.

Overall, the consensus is that the College Scorecard, though it has limitations, is a step in the right direction in that it focuses on outputs as well as inputs to an institution, including some data not available outside of the College Scorecard. The institutional research community will play a role in educating their institutional communities and the larger higher education community about the possibilities and limitations associated with this tool.

How is the College Scorecard being received on your campus? Share your comments below.



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