How to Improve the College Scorecard

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The White House will soon unveil a final version of its “college scorecard”—an online tool giving college-bound students and their families a hype-free snapshot of reliable information about any U.S. campus: real costs, graduation rates, student debt statistics, and earning potential of graduates.

The college scorecard is a good idea and it has the potential to make college-bound students smarter consumers. The scorecard is part of a major effort by the White House and the U.S. Department of Education to understand and improve the college selection process. At a time when student loan debt has exceeded $1 trillion, fewer than 60 percent of college freshmen graduate within six years, and the wages of recent grads have declined by nearly 5 percent since 2007, it’s more important than ever that students make good decisions about where to go, what to study, and how to pay. But to help students make better decisions, the scorecard must be easy to understand and relevant to their decision-making processes.

Though policymakers are working diligently and conscientiously to design a scorecard that will help students and families, the college scorecard has not been subjected to systematic testing by actual students and parents. Unfortunately this is typical of many disclosures government agencies require in the hopes of improving consumer choice. (CAP has previously written about a similar problem with the Securities and Exchange Commission’s recent revamp of disclosures that money managers must provide to prospective clients.) Without consumer testing, disclosures risk being overlooked and misunderstood.

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