As a senior facing the daunting task of finding a graduate school I want to invest more years of student debt in, I think back to when I started looking at colleges. I remember sitting in my high school’s counseling center, looking around at all the college information books, feeling utterly and completely overwhelmed. I wanted to truly find the best fit through a truly educated decision process, but there were just so many options and no way to easily compare a wide range of choices based on specific criteria. Sure, there were guide books and third-party websites but not all the books had all the information I wanted and many of the websites were convoluted.
However, with the College Scorecard website developed by the White House and the Department of Education released in September, new generations of students have much of the pertinent information in making initial decisions right at their fingertips. Students and parents can simply visit the website and find facts and statistics for institutions across the country, including a comparison for many of these figures with the national average.
The homepage is simple and straightforward, offering five main ways for people to find institutions: by program or degree, by location, by size, by name and by more advanced search criteria such as school type, “specialized mission” and religious affiliation. Once an institution is clicked on, the searcher is brought to the school’s profile. This page is clear and concise, conveying important information without being overly confusing. The location, size and type are listed right away along with a link to the school’s website. Beneath these are drop-down options showing other categories such as student demographics, costs and financial aid, graduation rates, SAT and ACT scores, academic programs and more. Each of these has a graphical representation of how the institution compares with the national average.
In the two months since its release, the site has not had completely glowing reviews, though. According to “College Scorecard Misses Opportunity to Make Key Point: Borrowing and Repayment Are Married” published by Karen Gross on the Huffington Post blog on Oct. 20, College Scorecard’s simplicity reflects missing information. Specifically the article cites a lack of information on loan repayment statistics attached to each institution.
Gross writes, “The only way to think about “affordability” (cost) effectively is to factor into borrowing decision-making how repayment can occur and at what price.”
Gross argues that without clear information on the average student’s ability to pay back loans, along with strategies for repayment, the College Scorecard denies students fundamental assistance. Gross ends her argument by pointing out that there is still hope for the program, but changes need to be made.
It seems that while the College Scorecard is definitely a step in the right direction in preparing high school students for making a more enlightened decision, there are still kinks to be worked out. As for right now, the College Scorecard is definitely a good place to start looking at schools when you have no idea what to even look for. However, it should be treated as a jumping off point, with more extensive research being completed once the choice pool has been narrowed.
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