Friday, December 6, 2013
SUSAN McMILLAN Kennebec Journal
AUGUSTA –- An online tool launched this week by the White House to improve transparency about college affordability and outcomes is being praised in concept by people who work in and study education.
However, some say the new College Scorecard has shortcomings and will be useful only if students and their parents understand what it means.
Gregory LaPointe, executive director of institutional research and planning at the University of Maine at Augusta, said he's concerned about the impression the scorecard could give prospective students about UMA.
The university's average net cost and median borrowing are low, but so is the graduation rate: 16 percent.
That figure includes only first-time, full-time students, who are a small minority of the 6,900 students the university enrolls in an academic year.
"That makes up a couple of hundred students that fit into that category," LaPointe said. "When someone's going to come to this page for our students, they're only getting that perspective."
Rachel Fishman, a policy analyst with the Washington-based New America Foundation, said the scorecard is full of important information that should be disseminated widely.
"I think it's a good start," she said. "I think there's still more that they can do, and I still think the impact will be small unless we figure out a way to actively get it into students' hands."
Fishman said colleges and universities should be required to post the College Scorecard on their websites' home pages and send it to students who request information. Now, it's on only the White House website, www.whitehouse.gov.
In his State of the Union address Tuesday, President Obama said the scorecard will show students "where you can get the most bang for your educational buck."
The tool has a page for every higher-education institution that receives federal financial aid and includes five measures: average net cost after grants and scholarships, graduation rate, loan default rate, median borrowing and average earnings for graduates. Visual gauges show whether an institution's graduation rate, for instance, is low, medium or high relative to others that grant the same type of degree.
Dan Connolly, a guidance counselor at Gardiner Area High School, said the scorecard appears to be a valuable tool.
"The more we can get transparency in education in terms of cost, the better off we're all going to be in terms of students making good decisions," he said.
One thing not included in the College Scorecard is information about financial aid renewal. Connolly said that's important because some colleges don't tell students that the grants or scholarships they're offered will run out after the first or second year.
The College Scorecard is the latest in a series of initiatives to make college costs more transparent. Since October 2011, institutions have been required to offer an online net price calculator that takes into account family income and available financial aid.
The College Scorecard includes much of the same information that's available on the federal government's College Navigator website or through organizations such as the College Board.
Fishman said the value of the new tool is in putting that information in one place and simplifying its presentation.
"There are a lot of other tools out there that are very complicated," she said. "They bombard students with information. And usually when the federal government develops tools, they tend to be hard to navigate and have a ton of data."
Susan McMillan can be contacted at 621-5645 or at: