After months of anticipation, the White House early Saturday morning released a new database of information on college student outcomes and loan repayment, as well as an updated College Scorecard designed to help students and families make better-informed decisions about choosing a college.
President Barack Obama announced the release as a part of his weekly address, saying that as the nation’s economic recovery progresses, “some higher education is the surest ticket to the middle class.”
Increasing the nation’s share of college-educated workers has become a linchpin of Obama’s administration – he’s repeatedly emphasized his goal to by 2020 have the United States again be first in the world in terms of college graduates. But with new college graduates often struggling to find jobs, at times because their schools did not adequately prepare them for a career, the administration has set out to hold colleges more accountable for how their students fare after graduating, through a now-defunct plan to rate colleges and eventually tie federal funding to performance, as well as the Department of Education’s (ED) gainful employment regulations.
“The country with the best-educated workforce in the world is going to win the 21st century economy. I want that to be America. But as college costs and student debt keep rising, the choices that Americans make when searching for and selecting a college have never been more important. That’s why everyone should be able to find clear, reliable, open data on college affordability and value – like whether they’re likely to graduate, find good jobs, and pay off their loans.”
The deluge of data the White House released Saturday comes after officials announced in June they would step away from attempting to rate colleges – an initiative Obama announced more than two years ago that faced fierce opposition from college and university presidents, as well as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle – and rather release a tool to help students decide for themselves what school would be the best fit for their college education.
Before ED abandoned its plan to move forward with a ratings system, NASFAA submitted comments (p. 17) on the proposed ratings framework, saying that from a philosophical standpoint, a ratings system would “erode and commoditize the diversity of America’s higher education system – the facet that makes it so unique and valuable.”
“From a practical view, given that the majority of first-year students apply to only one institution, there are better avenues to provide helpful consumer information than through a ratings system structured around institutional comparisons,” the comments said.
The revamped College Scorecard includes a trove of data that was previously unavailable to the public, or extremely difficult to obtain. Students and families can now see the averages for how much former students who received financial aid earn after graduating, what percentage of students graduate with debt, and what proportion of borrowers are repaying their loans.
“Americans will now have access to reliable data on every institution of higher education,” Obama said in his address.
Still, reaction from the higher education community has been mixed.
The Education Trust, a nonprofit advocacy organization, said in a statement that while releasing the data is a step forward, it’s not enough.
José Luis Santos, vice president of higher education policy and practice at The Education Trust, said that while the information is valuable, “simply releasing new data and relying on consumer behavior to create change is not enough to make a college degree more attainable for low-income students and students of color, as President Obama has pledged to do.”
Rather than just releasing data, he said, institutions need to be held accountable for the billions in federal funding they receive each year. The Education Trust in the coming weeks will release a report on the graduation rates of Pell Grant-recipients at public and private nonprofit institutions, Santos said in the statement. This paper is part of a consortium with the NASFAA and with the National College Access Network (NCAN) funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation through their "Reimagining Aid Design and Delivery" (RADD) project.
“We urge Congress in their reauthorization of the Higher Education Act to use the data unveiled today to incentivize and sanction institutions that are absorbing precious financial aid dollars while leaving vulnerable students degreeless and saddled with large sums of debt,” Santos said. “Congress can and must do more for the nation’s low-income students. While an important first step, transparency alone is not enough.”
Carol Geary Schneider, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), said it was “unfortunate” that the new College Scorecard does not recognize the quality of learning within different schools, or the impact a college education can have on society.
“The Department’s energies and resources would have been far better spent on supporting efforts to strengthen the quality of college learning and to ensure that all students have equitable access to a liberating education,” she said in a statement. Schneider said she affirmed what AAC&U’s board said in 2013: “The ‘value’ of our colleges, universities, and community colleges also encompasses their impact on the vitality and integrity of our democracy, on research and the advancement of knowledge, on community partnerships, and on global and economic development and innovation.”
Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU), said that while ED should be commended for releasing the new data, APLU would like to see it go further, such as providing earnings data broken down by program, and disclosing repayment rates and earnings information of former students several years after graduating.
“The administration is to be applauded for its effort to provide key information to students,” McPherson said in a statement. “We also appreciate the agency’s effort to provide the underlying data to institutions so they can use the information to support campus efforts to improve student success. Given the new data sources and elements contained within the Scorecard, we no doubt will have questions and concerns after a more careful analysis. We look forward to working with the administration on those matters.”
Publication Date: 9/14/2015