September 15, 2015
The U.S. Department of Education released “college scorecards” for the nation’s universities this weekend, giving high school students and their parents a comprehensive way to measure schools according to metrics such as net tuition cost and alumni salaries.
Yale’s scorecard boasts a graduation rate of 97 percent, an average alumni salary 10 years after graduation of $66,000 and a freshmen retention rate of 99 percent — all well above the national average for collegiate institutions. Administrators and higher education experts interviewed expressed excitement regarding the scorecards, noting that some of the data released last weekend was previously unavailable, or difficult to access before the release. In his weekly address, President Barack Obama stated that with the release of the scorecards, Americans will now have access to reliable data on every institution of higher education.
Likewise, Director of Financial Aid Caesar Storlazzi said the scorecards are a step in the right direction in terms of college accessibility and affordability.
“I think the ‘College Scorecard’ is an excellent example of clarity and conciseness,” Storlazzi said, though he added that the information is only based on federal aid recipients, meaning that Yale students only receiving institutional or outside aid are not included in the University’s scorecard.
Though Yale’s online scorecard includes a link labeled “Types of Financial Aid,” Storlazzi said, the link directs visitors to the federal financial aid website, requiring students and parents to specifically visit Yale’s site in order to get complete information about the types of aid available at Yale.
Still, Storlazzi described the scorecard as a “useful tool” and said he applauds the federal government for the design and clarity of the scorecards.
Though many believe that the scorecards will prove helpful to prospective college applicants, making them a relative success — they are ultimately the result of a failure. In 2013, the Obama Administration announced a plan to rank the quality of the nation’s 7,000 institutions of higher education using a comparative, data-based ratings system. The objective was to explicitly compare schools with one another and cut federal funding for schools with low ratings — an idea that was met with stark criticism from heads of universities and education experts across the country.
But the two-year effort officially came to an end last weekend when the White House instead released a website with school-specific data meant to be utilized by students searching for the biggest “bang for their buck.”
Robert Kelchen, assistant professor in the Department of Education Leadership, Management and Policy at Seton Hall University, told the News in January that he harbored doubts about the ability of the federal government to a compile a list of accurate college ratings by their projected date of August 2015. However, in an interview on Monday, Kelchen expressed a positive reaction to the online scorecards, noting their usefulness for students on federal aid who may have specific questions about student debt rates and tuition costs.
“I think the strength is in the data, not the scorecard itself,” Kelchen said. “The federal government has worked to make the data available to a range of organizations so they can develop their own tools to reach students and families. Some students will probably look at the official College Scorecard, but more will be reached by guidance counselors using other organizations’ websites that organize the data in different ways.”
According to Kelchen, colleges with favorable scorecards have already begun highlighting their performances, while colleges with less stellar outcomes are now attempting to rationalize their performances by emphasizing other factors that may not have been taken into account. Though the administration’s original idea to decrease funding for poorly rated schools never came to fruition, Kelchen predicted that politicians will start pressuring colleges with poorer outcomes to raise their standards, which could help drive some of the worst colleges out of the market.
The scorecards utilize quantitative data to paint a picture of schools to prospective applicants, which is similar to the approach used by College Factual — a website designed to assist students and parents through the college selection process by ranking colleges.
The College Factual rankings — which were released last week — placed Yale at number one, according to metrics such as freshmen retention rates and graduation rates.
Though the college scorecards list these same numbers, they also include categories such as “Students Paying Down Their Debt,” which was not incorporated into the College Factual rankings. According to Yale’s scorecard, 95 percent of students who received federal financial aid have already repaid at least $1 of the principal balance on their federal loans within three years of leaving school, in opposition to the national average of 67 percent.
But although Yale topped the College Factual list, it ranks lower than the other Ivy League schools when considering the average earnings of former students who received federal aid while on campus. The median earnings for Yale recipients of federal aid 10 years after graduation is $66,000, which is significantly above the national median of $34,000.
But the median annual earnings for Ivy League graduates as a collective is over $70,000 a year, with the median for Harvard graduates reaching $87,200, and the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton, Columbia, Cornell and Dartmouth all topping Yale in regard to average annual salary for graduated federal aid recipients.
Still, Brian Taylor, director of Ivy Coach, a New York-based college consulting firm, said he does not expect students to begin deferring to the college scorecards when assessing universities, regardless of how helpful the published data may be.
“The government backtracked on creating a ranking system, because they think there are enough publications already doing that,” Taylor said. “So now they’re not ranking the colleges, they’re just using a website to compare aspects of the colleges.”
Taylor added that he believes students will continue to use U.S. News and World Report when searching for a comparison tool for colleges, since the U.S. News rankings are currently the most widely read.
Kelchen said he knows students may not take advantage of the federal data, but said he believes the information will have an impact nonetheless.
“I think the data will be used quite a bit, but I think more people will get the information through guidance counselors, college access organizations and other websites instead of going to the scorecard’s website,” he said.
Yale has an average annual net cost of $16,743 for students receiving federal aid, which is roughly in line with the national average.