Federal College Scorecard: What Students and Parents Need to Know

In recent weeks, the White House has revealed a new way for parents and students to evaluate and compare colleges, called the Federal College Scorecard.

This may seem like a strange name. 

I don’t think you would find anyone who would argue that college is a “game”, and we all know it’s a serious and expensive endeavor with high stakes for your future.  Why then, has the federal government created a “scorecard”? Are there really “winners” and “losers” as one would find on a scorecard?

The White House behind trees and a fountain.

What is the Federal College Scorecard?

First, let’s start with what the scorecard is meant to be: the Federal College Scorecard is not like college rankings, which order colleges from “best” to “worst” based on certain criteria. Rather, the College Scorecard is simply a reporting of statistics that are meant to help you weigh the quality of the investment you are about to make.

It’s objective–there is no ranking or value assigned to numbers.

What data is included in the Federal College Scorecard?

The best way to describe and define the information found on the College Scorecard is to show some examples. Consider these three schools and some of the statistics reported by the College Scorecard:

Undergrads Retention rate1 Graduation rate Average student debt Avg cost, $75k-$110k income2 Average ACT
Yale 5,422 99% 97% $12,000 $14,879 32-35
U of Denver 5,505 87% 77% $24,500 $29,972 25-30
College of New Rochelle 3,207 62% 27% $21,525 $31,038 22-25

1Retention rate is the number of first-year students who return for their second year

2 Each school reports avg. cost by income range. This table shows the average costs for families with incomes of $75,001-$110,000/year. Average price for state schools is for in-state students only, so if you are an Iowan who wants to go to a UC school, the average price listed does NOT apply to you.

As you can see, there are a lot of numbers. And you can probably see spot some trends or differences right off the bat.

But, the data itself remains objective–it’s up to you, as a parent or student, to understand what it means and if it’s important for you to include in your evaluation.

There is a significant amount of other information included in the scorecard, including (but not limited to):

  • Socio-economic diversity, which is defined as the percentage of families whose income is less than $40k and receive an income-based federal Pell Grant to help pay for college.
  • Racial and ethnic diversity, which is a list broken down by the percentage of students enrolled by race
  • The mid 50th percentile of both ACT AND SAT scores are listed
  • Most popular majors and a full list of areas of study

Using the Federal College Scorecard to evaluate colleges

With this robust amount of information, there are also some gaps or at least words of caution to be considered. For example, the scorecard doesn’t list the percentage of students admitted. So the only way you have of knowing how selective a school might be is to look at standardized test scores, and this is an incomplete way to determine selectivity.

At a vast number of highly selective schools, an applicant might fall within the test score averages, but still not be able to gain admission.

Similarly, more and more colleges are test-optional and standardized test scores may not even be listed (e.g., College of the Holy Cross and Bates College).

College earnings data

Earnings after college is another field that should probably earn its own footnote. This is a great way to evaluate the “value” of a degree from a specific college. But, it raises a number of questions.

Harvard and MIT are both clearly top-notch institutions; however, MIT’s average salary after attending is listed at $91,600 vs. Princeton’s $75,100. MIT’s top 5 majors were all in traditionally high-paying STEM fields, with 44% of students listed as engineering majors. At Princeton, 20% of undergrads were high-paying engineering majors and only 2 of the top 5 majors were in STEM fields.

Is it the quality of the education that determines or your earnings after graduation? Or, is it the majors? Perhaps it’s just the name of the school?

Don’t put too much stock into the earnings until you’ve looked at the breakdown of majors and the pay in those specific fields.

College Raptor and the College Scorecard

The College Scorecard has provided some valuable stats. Just like in baseball, a team (or college) might lose most of its games (have lower stats), but still have some real gems on the team, and you’ll only know that by doing a close evaluation and determining which metrics are actually important to you, as a student or parent.

To get a more complete picture, you will be best served by using other resources with even more information.

The good news is that College Raptor has full access to the data included in the College Scorecard. Over the coming weeks, they’ll be incorporating this data, both to allow students/parents to compare colleges on new criteria, and also to improve the quality of our college match suggestions.

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