Column: College Scorecard website provides unbiased look at colleges

President Barack Obama waits for a translator as he speaks to members of the media following a bilateral meeting with Spain's King Felipe VI, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

President Obama recently unveiled his College Scorecard website. When he initially proposed a plan to “grade” each college based on various factors including graduation rate, tuition, debt incurred and average salary upon graduation. This was met with much trepidation from college presidents.

The actual website does not give out specific grades for colleges but investigates factors such as acceptance rates and alumni donations to add another dimension to choosing a college that best fits one’s needs.

This website has seemed to successfully address bigger issues after it was initially met with criticism for backing down on the “scorecard” aspect of the website.

An institution cannot be explained by a single measurement. There are various facets and individuals seeking to go to college have their own priorities. The new website facilitates the distribution of information about colleges on one master website. It allows students to find colleges based on specific tracks and programs.

It provides links to different types of aid and an advanced search to fit one’s options. Each college is initially denoted by average annual cost, graduation rate and salary after attending before being given the link to look into further details.

There are some issues however. The average annual cost only accounts for tuition but not living expenses or meal plans. Harvard’s annual cost is misleading; their tuition is listed at around $14,000 while the Harvard website shows their tuition to be around $45,000. The total cost of attendance itself is shown to be around $60,000.

Once this anomaly was found further investigation ensued and I found that the website looks at historically given aid. In other words the website lists the average annual cost to attend that school based on the income bracket your family falls under.

The website also shows salary earned by those who graduated at a specific college within ten years of enrollment. This facilitates the comparison of schools based on the potential debt incurred to the potential salary earned ten years after enrollment. Initially, the trends were predictable as those enrolled in elite colleges seemingly earned more than those who did not. 

However, the website also made a distinct delineation between those who chose expensive colleges and did not earn as much as those who spent a fraction of that on tuition and still earned more. For example, those who attend Harvard University take on a quarter of the debt those Brandeis University students take on but Harvard students earn nearly twice as much.

As expected, Harvard, M.I.T. and Stanford top the charts in salary earnings. However, the most troubling aspect of some “elite” schools display the overall average salary of all colleges nationwide. Looking at the statistics for several elite schools may change your mind about where to go.

A comparison of UCLA to Penn State shows that UCLA graduates leave with 30 percent less debt and go on to make 30 percent more money than their counterparts at Penn State. These differences were previously unavailable to students before this day and age.

Students entering college today are more informed about the economic impact of their decisions. Previously, the only information high school students received about a college was printed on colleges’ brochures that displayed cheery, bright-eyed students sprawled out on lawns and statistics that bolstered the college’s reputation.

This unbiased website can help students learn the details of their decisions and choose based on all the statistics, not simply the ones the colleges choose to make public.

On the U.S. Department of Education website, it shows the inequality in pay between women and men ten years after enrollment.

The most common way to explain away the difference is the typical, “Oh, but you have to account for the difference in major and job type.”

However, Massachusetts Institute of Technology has the largest gap between men and women earning salary ten years after enrollment with a difference of $58,100. As a school that is primarily focused on technology, the jobs sought by the men and women should not be so different as to incur a difference that large.

The men and women at New York University, where the reasoning can potentially hold a stronger argument, see a difference around $20,000. Based on this it would be an incredibly oversimplification of the situation to discount the fact that gender inequality still exists.

President Obama may not have been completely aware of the affect his website would have but he managed to provide a useful tool for our college inclined generation. He also managed to highlight the areas that need improvement for a group of colleges that expect their students to pay much more than they would typically earn after graduation.


Jesseba Fernando is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at jesseba.fernando@uconn.edu.