Last February, the White House came up with what we thought was a pretty good idea: produce a one-page snapshot of undergraduate colleges to help teens decide which college might be best for them.
The “college scorecard” is about to come out. Where it succeeds is in taking away the hype almost every piece of literature directly from colleges contains and putting every school on an even playing field, a field where cold, hard facts reign supreme. Where it fails is that kids can’t actually read the thing.
“What am I looking at? It looks like a bill or something but I’m not sure what it is,” one high school student told the Center for American Progress in a focus group, after examining a sample college scorecard. “This is why I hate college stuff.”
The center recommends, in a report, that some sort of introductory material be provided to give readers of the college scorecard a frame of reference. Stats on the scorecard include college costs, student loan debt and repayment, graduation rates, and potential earnings averages for graduates. But students said that information is difficult to frame, because some stats, such as “net price,” aren’t described clearly enough.
In addition, some possibly important stats are omitted, like the four-year graduation rate; the six-year rate is reported. High school students in the US are dramatically increasing their taking of Advanced Placement exams designed to let them hit the college turf running and potentially finish earlier. This information suggests the four-year number would be more relevant to college-bound seniors in America.
Finally, it has been documented that, even at the best universities, graduates with some degrees fare better at salary-making than those with other degrees. An average earnings potential for graduates of a whole university may not reflect the wide variance between the different degree programs.
Like many government reports, the scorecard and its design haven’t really been tested with actual students. We join the center in advising government to perform this kind of consumer testing on products it makes, especially where those products are a good idea designed to help teenagers.
This scorecard has the potential to deliver very useful information to college-bound seniors without all the advertising and hype colleges bombard them with. It just cuts to the chase, but it seems the government designers’ lack of testing made it so those doing the chasing can’t even see the road. There’s still time.