Post-secondary education experts are lauding the addition of data to the College Scorecard, enhancements announced this week by U.S. Department of Education secretary Betsy DeVos in efforts to improve transparency through more detailed information for prospective students.
At the same time, some question whether the enhancements go far enough and how much more they will help students who use the online tool to compare options, particularly students from underrepresented groups who have lower completion rates.
“This is a great step in the right direction for making sure students and families have the needed information so they can make the best decisions about where to go to college,” said Wesley Whistle, senior adviser for policy and strategy at New America.
The added information, which follows President Trump’s executive order in March aimed at improving transparency and accountability in higher education, includes:
· Graduation rates and other data for 2,100 post-secondary institutions that award certificates rather than degrees and were not included prior.
· Information about non-first-time and non-full-time students and the percentage of students who transferred or were still enrolled in school, a step beyond the current data provided only on first-time, full-time students.
· The most recent s on average annual cost, graduation rate, student demographics and other data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) of the National Center for Education Statistics.
· Downloadable information from each institution about loan debt data broken down by field of study beginning this fall, with preliminary data released now.
Additionally, Scorecard content, which is published on a website easily accessible to the public, will be updated several times throughout the year as data subsets become available. It’s currently updated once a year in the fall.
Whistle said the changes “speak to the need for the passage of the College Transparency Act (CTA), bipartisan legislation that would provide even more relevant information and better serve first-generation college students and other underserved groups.
Dr. Ivory A. Toldson, president of the Quality Education for Minorities (QEM) Network, said the enhancements sound good but don’t address one of the main concerns he always has had about the Scorecard.
“It leads with numbers that will be poorly understood by the layperson,” he said.
For example, there are limitations about how graduation rates are calculated and a tendency to “attribute graduation rates to what a college is or is not doing and not a function of the type of students they have chosen to give a chance to,” Toldson said.
“We know that a lot of students who have financial difficulties have more trouble graduating from college on time, and a lot of times those financial difficulties are a function of the amount of resources you got from your parents, not necessarily how much the college is contributing to your finances,” he said.
Further, the presentation of information on the Scorecard website can lead readers to make inferences and draw conclusions that may be inaccurate or not fully informed, including about starting salaries of graduates, he added.
Identifying a way to provide qualitative information to supplement the quantitative data on the site would be beneficial to researchers and policymakers as well as students and families, suggested Toldson.
Others agree that more is needed.
While the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities released a statement expressing pleasure with the changes, vice president for congressional and governmental affairs Craig Lindwarm noted that “key gaps” in information remain because of a congressional ban on releasing student-level data.
He called on Congress to pass the CTA to lift that data ban, which also would allow the inclusion of helpful information about the 39 percent of college students who don’t get Title IV aid.
An even fuller picture can be painted if the Scorecard includes data already being collected by schools about the outcomes of students who transfer out of a school, Lindwarm added.
Particularly with respect to the needs of first-generation, low-income, minority and other student groups who experience disparities in completion rates, inclusion of more information is “really encouraging,” said Bill DeBaun, director of data and evaluation at the National College Access Network.
However, he said, there’s a need for better marketing to reach those groups and help them access and understand the information in context.
“It really does help to have supports for students and families to make sense of that data so that it isn’t stand-alone, and additional support is available to help them sort it out,” said DeBaun.
Some research indicates that the Scorecard is more likely to be used by more well-to-do students – who already tend to have more resource support – than students of more modest means, so even with the enhancements the education department should make efforts to raise awareness about it among the latter constituencies, as well as technical school and transfer students, said Ernest Ezeugo, policy director at the National Campus Leadership Council.
“If students don’t know it’s available or how to access and read it effectively, it can be only so successful,” he said. “The department of education needs to prioritize making the data more accessible to the communities that could really benefit from seeing it, if they want to take it from where it is now to a viable resource for students of all backgrounds.”
LaMont Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter @DrLaMontJones