Higher education decisions—such as whether to pursue a degree, which type, and at which institution— have lasting impacts on students and their futures. Unfortunately, too many students and families struggle to find clear, reliable information on the prospective colleges they are considering, like whether they are likely to graduate with the skills needed to find a well-paying job and repay their loans successfully. The Obama Administration believes that every hardworking student in America deserves a real opportunity to earn an affordable, high-quality degree or credential that offers a clear path to economic security and success.
That’s why, in September 2015, President Obama announced the redesigned College Scorecard to give students and families the most reliable, comprehensive, nationally comparable data ever produced on institutional outcomes. These include statistics on debt, federal loan repayment, completion rates, and post-college earnings of alumni in an easy-to-understand format. Key to boosting college completion is ensuring that students and families have information to support them in applying to and enrolling in a school that will help them achieve their educational goals. Also important is helping students and their families obtain financial aid by making it easier and faster for them to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). To that end, the Administration has also taken major steps to streamline the FAFSA. Most families can now electronically retrieve their tax information filed for an earlier year to use on the FAFSA, rather than waiting until tax season to complete their applications. In addition, students and families can apply for financial aid earlier—starting in October, as the college application process gets underway—rather than in January.
As part of the Administration’s continued commitment to access, affordability, and completion, the Department today released its inaugural update of data, including a new year of data on college completion, debt statistics, and post-college earnings of alumni.
“Though a college education can be the best investment people make for their futures, finding the right college can be a stressful process for students and families,” said U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. “The College Scorecard is a next-generation tool that helps provide access to the information needed to make the best possible choice about college. With the release of new data, we’re working to ensure students and families have a deeper understanding about their college choices to find a school that is affordable, well-suited to meet their needs, and consistent with their educational and career goals.”
New Data Updated on the College Scorecard
Today’s College Scorecard refresh includes more than 1,700 data points for more than 7,000 institutions of higher education. The data update reflects information from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) at the National Center for Education Statistics, the National Student Loan Data System, and tax records provided through the U.S. Department of the Treasury. The new data published include graduation rates from the 2014-15 academic year, debt amounts and repayment rates from the 2014-15 award years, and earnings information from the 2013 tax year.
Since last year’s launch, these data have formed the foundation of dozens of new research studies, policy analyses, and associated projects. With analyses published by the Obama Administration, as well as studies performed by researchers in the field, the data are shining a spotlight on never-before-seen information about higher education. The data released today provide even more new information; for instance:
- There is significant variation in the benefits and costs associated with attending particular colleges, or types of colleges. Among the top 10 percent of four-year colleges by completion rates, more than four out of five students graduate within six years; while at the bottom 10 percent of four-year colleges, fewer than a quarter of students graduate within that timeframe. Earnings also vary significantly, both across degree types and across specific institutions.
- A student’s ability to get a good job and repay his or her loans is one indication of the quality of the education provided. Borrowers at all types of schools who entered repayment during the recession were less likely to be on track to successfully repay their loans; but borrowers at certain types of colleges—those at for-profit schools and other two-year institutions—had an especially difficult time managing their debt. While 80 percent of borrowers at public and private nonprofit four-year colleges are making progress within three years in paying down their debt, fewer than half of borrowers at for-profit colleges are. Repayment rates, in general, have also begun to tick back up in the most recent class of borrowers.
- The most expensive degree is the one a student never completes. Among borrowers who graduated from college, more than three out of four are making progress in paying down their debt within three years of leaving school. However, for those who left school with debt and no degree, only 56 percent were successfully paying down their loans. Students’ chances of successfully repaying their loans may therefore be greatest at the institutions where they have greater chances of graduating.
Improving Information Available to Students and Families
The Department is committed to ensuring students and families have the information they need when considering postsecondary options to inform their decisions. That’s why the College Scorecard will continue to provide critical data elements, including the costs students can expect to pay according to their family income; their likelihood of completing a degree; and what alumni can expect to earn 10 years after first entering the school. The Department is already collecting improved information on college completion, including measuring the outcomes of part-time students and returning or transfer-in students previously excluded from the tool and highlighting outside efforts to measure accurate completion rates and other student outcomes, such as the Student Achievement Measure and the Voluntary Framework of Accountability.
Since the College Scorecard initially launched, nearly 1.5 million users throughout the country have searched college profiles. Additionally, more than 600 developers have accessed College Scorecard’s Application Programming Interface (API), which allows users to create tools and insights that will help prospective college students make important decisions. Many developers have already built the College Scorecard data into their own products. For example:
- College Abacus and Pell Abacus have incorporated information from the College Scorecard to construct a debt-to-earnings rate for colleges and universities. As students access the website to learn about the costs of a college education for them, they also find eye-opening data and graphics to help them make their choices wisely, including a new tool in Spanish called Pell Ábaco.
- Schoold built a salary prediction tool that combines data from the Department, including both IPEDS and the College Scorecard, with data from the U.S. Census Bureau. This app, which aims to inform students’ choices about where to go to school, has received over 1 million downloads since launching earlier this year.
- A researcher at Vanderbilt University released a College Scorecard-related feature in March 2016 for R, the open-source programming language for data science and statistics used across an array of fields for data applications big and small. This feature has been downloaded over 600 times, and allows R analysts to more seamlessly incorporate College Scorecard data, streamlining related analyses and visualizations.
- A number of media and research organizations—including Moneymagazine, Washington Monthly, Forbes, The Economist, Niche.com, Brookings Institution,and Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce have incorporated data from the College Scorecard into their annual college rankings and other research projects, promoting an outcomes-based analysis of colleges and universities and ensuring tens of thousands more students evaluate their postsecondary options based on the College Scorecard’s valid, reliable, and comparable data.
The Future of the College Scorecard
As the higher education sector grows and changes, the College Scorecard will continue to evolve to provide students and families with the best information possible, and help policymakers access the information they need to help identify high-performing institutions and improve outcomes for students. The Department is committed to working with students and families to give them the information they need, talking with experts in the field to determine what works, and continuing to advance the goals of the Scorecard project.
The Department is committed to working toward improvements that will make the College Scorecard more accurate, relevant, and timely for students and families, including the following items:
- Cautioning students about known institutional issues before they enroll: Right now, the College Scorecard provides a caution flag for institutions under Heightened Cash Monitoring 2, an indication that those institutions may be having a number of financial or federal compliance issues. Over the next year, the Department will consider other cautionary indicators that consumers should be aware of before deciding to enroll in an institution.
- Publishing more comprehensive completion rates: The Department is already collecting better information on college completion for publication in 2017, including measuring the outcomes of part-time students and returning or transfer-in students not observed previously. The Department is also working with institutions to ensure that they are providing complete and accurate information about their financial aid recipients’ completion rates to enable the Department to reliably calculate completion rates for student subgroups by institution, including Pell Grant recipients.
- Producing program-level outcomes information: Program-level student outcomes information can be far more meaningful to students making educational decisions than information that is aggregated at the institution level. Not all programs at a given institution are of the same quality, and graduates’ earnings can depend on a student’s choice of major. Yet these data are rarely available to students when they are making important decisions about their futures. Through its Gainful Employment rules, the Department will soon begin publishing program-level outcomes data. Additionally, beginning in 2014, the Department has been collecting data on the educational programs of all federal financial aid recipients. The Department plans to begin calculating labor market outcomes for these programs and publishing them through the College Scorecard as soon as possible, so that students and families have the best possible information about their educational opportunities.