“College Scorecard” Helps Students Compare Higher-Ed Costs

College MoneyBuilding upon last year’s release of the “Financial Aid Shopping Sheet,” the U.S. Department of Education, working with the White House, has created a “College Scorecard” online tool. This is designed to help students and their families better understand and compare the costs of attendance at institutions of higher education.

It isn’t perfect, but this College Scorecard is certainly a big step towards clarifying some aspects of accessing higher education that many families – especially those with first-generation college students – have found confusing and obstructive. In general, creating one, user-friendly website to help families make decisions about financing higher education is a big accomplishment.

Students are able to enter an institution’s name, or perform a broader search based on location, degree/major, awards offered, school size, or several other parameters. The scorecard then displays a variety of cost and attendance data, as well as how these compare with national averages. Especially useful is the link to the Net Price Calculator, which enables students to get a more personalized idea of the price they would pay for attending a particular institution – although it would be even more helpful if this link were displayed more prominently.

Take two examples – one a small, private, four-year college in Pennsylvania, and the second a large, public university in Illinois:

  • The average net annual cost of Allegheny College is $25,140/year, which is rated “high” compared with the national average net cost. But Allegheny College also has an 80.4 percent graduation rate, which rates quite “high” compared with the national mean. While the college’s student loan default rate of 5.5 percent is considered “low,” the median amount a student borrows will require a monthly payment of $296.10 after graduation, which is on the “high” end.
  • University of Illinois-Chicago’s average net cost is $8,697, which is fairly “low” compared with the national average. Yet, the graduation rate is only 54.5 percent, which is fairly close to the national norm. The student loan default rate is similarly quite “low,” at 4.2 percent, and the median monthly loan payment after graduation is $194.64, which is just below the national average.

The Department of Education is already working on the next improvement to the Scorecard, which relates to the employment opportunities and potential earnings of graduates from a chosen institution. However, some experts say that including this information in the Scorecard would require changing the 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act, which currently prohibits the government from keeping data on people’s educational backgrounds.

We hope to see further enhancements to this Scorecard in the future!

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About National Community Tax Coalition

National Community Tax Coalition (NCTC) is the nation's largest, most comprehensive membership organization for community-based organizations offering free tax and financial services to low-income working families.

Posted on February 25, 2013, in NCTC and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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