Washington, D.C. — Nearly six months ago, the U.S. Department of Education published its College Scorecard, with a wealth of new data from 1996 to 2013 from more than 7,000 colleges. A new report from the Center for American Progress says that the College Scorecard showcases the power of unlocking even a small portion of the data capabilities held by the federal government—but a closer look reveals some weaknesses and data limitations. The report also offers steps that the department or Congress could take to improve the scorecard.
“The College Scorecard offers an impressive array of data to students, families, and researchers—but the scorecard should be just the beginning, not the end of the Department of Education’s data improvement process,” said Ben Miller, Senior Director for Postsecondary Education at CAP and author of the report. “There’s more that the department—as well as Congress—can do to ensure that students and families are equipped with the data they need to make an informed decision about postsecondary options and to give the American public a clearer picture of our higher education system.”
CAP’s new report assesses the scorecard’s data, highlighting the good measures that were important inclusions, including the disaggregation of results by type of student–not just institution—so consumers can see how people like them fared. Reporting earnings and loan repayment information also provides new measures for rethinking outcomes, CAP’s report notes, while disclosing these data across several cohorts and points in time allows for a better understanding of how results can change.
The report also looks at what the Department of Education could do better in the next round in terms of improving the indicators that it already reports and making changes that improve the data’s usability and clarity. For instance, the department could use a better definition of student loan repayment that more accurately captures people who are retiring their debt, as well as better align cohorts for different measures to assist in comparing outcomes.
The report suggests additional measures that the Department of Education could add; for instance, it could disclose more information about loan outcomes, particularly the use of income-driven repayment plans. It also could break out results for parent borrowers and graduate students to help these individuals better understand their choices.
CAP’s report also recommends that Congress improve the College Scorecard by allowing the Department of Education to collect data on all students attending college—known as a student unit record system—not just those receiving federal financial aid. Congress enacted a ban on the creation of a student unit record system in the 2008 reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. These additional data, CAP’s report notes, would make it possible to see how students who are served by the aid programs fare compared with those who are not. It also would provide a complete picture of results for institutions, something that may not be happening now at places where only a small portion of students receive federal assistance.
Click here to read “Scoring the College Scorecard: What’s Good and What Needs Improvement” by Ben Miller.
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