In his most recent State of the Union address, President Obama announced the launch of a new College Scorecard designed to help students and families determine which institutions offer “the most bang for your educational buck.” Here’s an excerpt from the address:
Sounds pretty useful, right? Well, maybe. It all depends on what sort of bang students are looking for. If, for example, that bang has anything to do with how much they might expect to earn upon graduation, they may need to keep looking.
The College Scorecard—launched under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Education’s College Affordability and Transparency Center—is the product of an initiative the president proposed last year, in a speech at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. The online tool provides data about individual universities so that students and their parents can quickly assess institutions by a number of criteria. Information on average costs, graduation rates, and student loan borrowing amounts are all included on the scorecard, all statistics that describe the “educational buck” required to attend a given institution.
When it comes to describing an institution’s “bang” the intention was to provide information about:
- the types of jobs students get when they graduate from an institution, and
- the average earnings of former students who took out federal student loans.
Regrettably, the current version of the scorecard offers neither data point. Supposedly, the U.S. Department of Education plans to publish information on the occupation and earnings of graduates in the coming year.
Sadly, until that data arrives, we’re left pretty much where we’ve been for some time. We already have a number of good resources for measuring student finances and academic progress while they’re attending college. For example, the National Center for Education Statistics, provides a wealth of information based on the data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (better known as IPEDS). Other sources, such as CollegeMeasures.com and College Results Online, provide similar information. Higher Education consulting firm Noel-Levitz has an entire page of Higher Education Metrics on their site. So it’s clear that we already have a fair number of good college scorecards. What is missing from all of them, though, is information on how well students do after they graduate.
Generally, the people at an institution who care the most about this post-graduation data are – you guessed it – the Alumni (or Advancement) Office folks. These good people manage fund-raising for the institution and are always eager to stay in touch with the alums. It’s pretty well-known, though, that graduates are not overly motivated keep their alma mater updated on their newfound employment, much less their salary information. Grads are too busy moving on with their lives to routinely provide this information.
So, what are our options for obtaining this critical piece of the puzzle? Well, first we’re going to need a place to store it—say a central student employment clearinghouse database. For the sake of argument, let’s assume we’ve got one of those (humor me here). Given that assumption, here are a few thoughts on how we might incentivize different stakeholders to round up post-graduate employment data:
For Graduates: Financial aid forgiveness. If the student updates the database with their employment information within six months of graduation, credit them with three months of Financial Aid repayment.
For Employers: Tax credits. If an employer hires a recent graduate and updates the database with their employment information, the employer gets a tax credit of $3,000.
For Institutions: Grant money. If an institution can show they are successfully collecting post-graduation employment information at some acceptable rate (say, at least 50%) and are updating the database with this information, the institution qualifies for additional grant money – perhaps more PELL grants.
These are just a few thoughts, and they will all cost money. However, if the Obama administration is serious about providing meaningful information about getting the most “bang for their educational buck,” then it needs to get serious procuring the critical post-graduation employment data that is missing from the picture.
What do you think of the College Scorecard? Are there features you like or other features you’d like to see? Let us know what you think in the comments section below!