Obama Administration Reveals College Scorecard

In a push for education equality and against exploitation by for-profit colleges, the Obama administration has unveiled a “College Scorecard” highlighting schools with the biggest bang for your buck.

The end-product of a two-year investigation of 7,000 institutions of higher education, the College Scorecard differs from other university ranking systems by comparing college costs to graduation rates, loan repayment rates, and average post-graduate salaries. The resulting college search engine tool, available at collegescorecard.ed.gov, encourages recipients of Pell grants and student loans to apply to schools with high graduation rates and post-graduate salaries.

The Obama administration is also sharing the data it found with major college ranking services and websites in order to better provide the public with savvy information when applying to schools.

College Scorecard Is a Push Against Corporate College

While the US has more institutions of higher education than ever before, access to high-quality higher education has never been more prohibitive. With perhaps the fastest-growing pricetag of any service in the country, college’s role as a “great equalizer” is becoming more and more of a fiction.

Two things are happening: first, expensive colleges are becoming simply too expensive to be worth the cost. Especially for the vast majority of these school’s students who are forced to take out loans–which often take upwards of two or three decades to repay in full–the comparative opportunity that these schools offer does not make up for the shackling debt that they require. Hence, more people are vying for cheaper college options (but clearly not enough, since colleges can hike their prices every year and people still apply).

Second, many cheaper colleges are using increasingly dirty business tactics, evidenced in the rise of “for-profit colleges.” These schools–which include many single-location schools as well as nationwide and/or online programs like University of Phoenix, Corinthian Colleges, DeVry University, and ITT Technical Institute–advertise their education aggressively, sometimes even shaming low-income people into applying. Many for-profits have grown notorious for prioritizing tuition revenue over graduation rates, career preparation, and post-graduate salaries. Far from equalizers, many are perpetuators of income inequality and poverty.

Both of these phenomena–the rising costs of higher-quality universities, and the dirty business methods of cheaper ones–are products of an overall corporatization of higher education. One of the purposes of College Scorecard is to make prospective students as business-minded as these colleges: if schools only care about their bottom line, then students deserve to be able to use the same logic, choosing a school based on how likely they are to graduate from it and find a well-paid job, based on how much they have to pay for it.

Obama’s Dream, Partially Realized

Obama first announced this plan two years ago. But back then, it was more ambitious: not only would it rank all 7,000 schools based on their “worth” from a student perspective, but it would even penalize high-cost, low-reward universities and for-profit colleges by restricting their access to Pell grants and Federal student loans, shifting these benefits to more “worth-it” schools. The idea was that taxpayers should not be subsidizing tuition that profits institutions more than students.

The idea garnered scathing criticism. Much of it came from presidents of the very high-cost universities and for-profit schools who would have been penalized by the program. They paid to lobby against the plan and save their backs. They seem to have succeeded.

There were reasonable critiques of his idea as well: that an alternative ranking system would manipulate the truth about quality of education, or that an emphasis on post-graduate salaries would end up de-funding the liberal arts. But who can say to what extent these critiques were construed to veil the penny-pinching motives of corporate college lobbyists.

Still, the College Scorecard Is a Step in the Right Direction

While more work still must be done in terms of breaking down corporate colleges and equalizing education opportunity, this is a step in the right direction and a much-needed show of resistance against the unadulterated corporatization of higher education. But if more steps do not follow, then the College Scorecard’s impact may be difficult to measure.

What do you think is the most important step in providing equal access to higher education in the U.S., starting with the College Scorecard? Share your wisdom!


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Kerry Martin is a semi-native of Denver. He went to school in Vermont for its great beaches. Now transplanted to Brooklyn, he works as a volunteer coordinator/community organizer for ArchCare TimeBank when he isn't writing Ecology, Technology, and Offbeat articles for Clapway.