What Lies Ahead for the Department of Education's College Scorecard?

By December 1, 2015 March 7th, 2019 Trusteeship Article

Jamienne S. Studley, deputy under secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, was president of Skidmore College, associate dean of Yale Law School, and a board member of AAC&U, the Association of American Colleges & Universities. We asked her about the department’s new College Scorecard, an interactive online tool that allows prospective students and their families to research colleges and universities and find the best fit.

How will the Scorecard benefit students and the public?

All of the Obama administration’s higher education initiatives are designed to improve access, affordability, and outcomes, especially for lowincome and other less-advantaged students. The Scorecard focuses on questions that will advance our shared work toward that goal: Which institutions are taking high numbers of Pell-eligible students and helping them graduate and succeed? Which are ensuring that low-income students can afford to attend, or that all students have manageable levels of debt and solid repayment rates?

The Scorecard will help students select institutions that offer good quality and value. When more students enroll in colleges and training where their chances of graduating, repaying their loans, and earning a solid living are good, society benefits.

What kind of data is the department providing?

The Scorecard contains key metrics for postsecondary institutions—including never-before-available earnings information from tax records—that students can access in user-friendly formats, including by smartphone.

In keeping with the administration’s emphasis on accountability, transparency, and collaboration, we’ve made a vast array of additional data available to institutions, researchers, policymakers, and journalists. Developers are using this data trove to create tools for specific audiences, from Pell-eligiblestudents to upward-mobility program clients. Institutions can use the data to explore previously obscured problems within and across institutions.

How does the Scorecard work?

The ratings that matter most are the ones chosen by students, with their families and advisors. They can structure searches based on what’s important to them. For example, using the “net price by quintile [of family income],” some students will discover they can afford to attend institutions they feared would be out of reach, thanks to effective need-based aid policies.

We hope institutions, and the higher education field, will help tell their full story by complementing these tools with information about their missions and cultures, learning approaches, outcomes, and the qualitative results and enduring rewards that distinguish institutions and programs.

How can boards and institutions use the Scorecard?

The Scorecard, and the extensive additional data, can help boards ask better questions in planning and benchmarking. Ideally, students will reward institutions that demonstrate solid outcomes, and institutional leaders will show wise stewardship, working to improve access, affordability, and outcomes. If our field devoted the same effort to raising completion rates and reducing costs for lowincome students that now goes toward raising yield rates and SAT medians, imagine the results.

We also hope to encourage entire institutions to collaborate on targets aligned with the Scorecard. When I was a college president, I would have welcomed national attention and comparisons based on the goals my institution worked on every day, like ensuring academic success for first-generation and low-income students and preparing students to find satisfying work in their chosen fields.

Picture being armed with a clear, shared set of baseline questions as you evaluate a proposed academic change or innovative strategy for increasing persistence. Will this change help at-risk students earn their degrees? Will it maintain or increase student-learning outcomes while making programs more affordable?

All board members have an enduring obligation to serve students and the public interest by protecting their institutions’ core values, academic quality and performance, and financial fundamentals. The federal government has a similar duty to steward the nation’s investment of time, money, and hope in higher education. We believe the Scorecard— and a national movement toward smarter priorities and better questions—will help all of us carry out those profound responsibilities.