Scorecard Empowers Incoming Students

Ben Silverman, Contributing Writer

After the Obama administration’s recent release of College Scorecard, a user-friendly data cache designed to give prospective students access to more information about the institutions to which they are preparing to commit several years of their life, previously uncharted statistics have been brought into the public eye.

The announcement of this initiative, which brought to light data such as median earnings after 10 years and the tendency of alumni to default on their debt, was met with heavy opposition from presidents of lower-tier and elite colleges alike. Those who represent under-performing schools are rightly afraid that they may be weeded out in the future, and some elite colleges fear the corporatization effect that the mostly-economic data may accentuate. Adam Falk, the president of Williams College, said that College Scorecard “is oversimplified to the point that it actually misleads”. However, the current method of determining quality of higher education is no better.

In his weekly address preceding Scorecard’s release, President Obama is cited as saying, “Right now … many existing college rankings reward schools for spending more money and rejecting more students — at a time when America needs our colleges to focus on affordability and supporting all students who enroll. That doesn’t make sense, and it has to change.” The President is referring to sites such as U.S. News & World Report, where reputation and selectivity are heavily valued. This can measure the quality of the elite colleges quite effectively, but for the vast majority of students that need to find their place in the workforce and quickly pay off their debt, too many are pigeonholed into attending a school that improperly prepares them due to misinformation during the decision process.

In the days of competing with the Soviets, when the number of kids attending college skyrocketed, the higher-education system in the U.S. was thrust into a transitory period. The old culture of higher education, in which only the best and the brightest of white men were accommodated, had to begin its shift to provide a decent education to as much of the country as possible while maintaining the quality of its established institutions. These established institutions are doing better than ever, graduation rates are high among top schools, and the unemployment rate of college graduates is currently 2.5 percent. For the rest of the country, decent education and preparation for the future is not being delivered. A staggering 44 percent of students who attend four-year universities and colleges do not graduate, the vast majority of whom come out of institutions that consistently report low graduation rates. In 2010, for-profit schools and community colleges produced respectively 28 and 31 percent of total graduates who default on their debt, and those who do not graduate have an even tougher time.

It is apparent that a paradigm shift in higher education was rushed, leading people to question whether too many people currently attend college. The solution, however, is not tapering the currently overwhelming influx of college students but changing the system and our society to accommodate each person’s ability to pursue education and positionality in our country. President Obama has shown that he recognizes this and has shown it with the decision to make community college more accessible. The problems of the bottom half of the workforce are based on problems in the education they are receiving. It is important that we don’t set aside these people, especially labeling them as simply “lazy,” because their potential to positively impact the economy is enormous. The president agrees that solving this problem is the key to winning in the 21st-century world economy.

College Scorecard was an important step in the right direction. To the chagrin of top institutions, but hopefully to the future delight of 90 percent of the country, the Scorecard elucidates an alternative to the aspiration-based college system. Now people will have the opportunity to make an advised, objective decision that was previously not possible. It also may foreshadow a change in the culture of higher education, as less emphasis will be placed on the elitist nature of higher education and colleges and universities could perhaps do away with much of the semantics of competition. In its place, higher education could find a place to be a right for all citizens, but first the institutions must be great enough to fulfill that lofty goal.