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CAP Report Reveals Student Confusion with Obama College Scorecard

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December 05, 2012 08:54 pm

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A report released Monday by the Center for American Progress contains important reactions from high school students on the Obama administration’s proposed college scorecard. The scorecard, a reference for students considering attending higher education, will soon be available online for all U.S. postsecondary institutions. CAP obtained feedback on the scorecard’s usefulness from four focus groups made up of high school juniors and seniors who plan to pursue postsecondary education.

The scorecard contains helpful information for students and their families making decisions about which higher education institution to attend. Some of the information provided by the scorecard about individual institutions will include net price (total cost of attendance minus grants and scholarships), completion rates (rates of full-time students who complete a four-year degree within six years), student loan repayment, student debt, and earnings potential. All of these data are put in context for any given institution by comparing them to the same points at other institutions.

So what did students preparing to make one of the most important decisions of their lives think of the scorecard?
“’What am I looking at? It looks like a bill or something, but I’m not sure what it is,’” said Kendra, one student involved in the focus groups. Although this is just one student, as the report notes, “It became clear the Kendra’s initial reaction…was a common one.”

One problem, among numerous others, identified by the report about the scorecard is that, “The government draft lacked the contextual information that would immediately clue the reader into what the disclosure is meant to tell them.”

The authors of the report make recommendations for how to strengthen the administration’s scorecard and even offer up their own vision of what a more effective instrument might look like. The scorecard has not been finalized yet, and there are still opportunities to strengthen it and make it more useful for students and their families.

The Obama administration’s scorecard has great potential. It can serve as a standardized resource that delivers key information in a comprehensible form. But as the CAP report reveals, the scorecard in its current form is not yet the tremendous asset to students and their families that it could be. As the scorecard moves along towards being finalized, I hope the Obama administration will consider the thoughtful recommendations offered by Julie Margetta Morgan and Gadi Dechter in the CAP report.

Neglecting to improve the scorecard from its current form could result in more statements like this from students like Kendra after she examined the instrument: “This is why I hate college stuff.” With postsecondary completion so critical to the nation’s economic future, students need all the help they can get, and that help should be as clear as possible.

In the coming days, the Alliance will release a report that provides a brief overview of legislative changes that have turned the current federal student aid system into a complicated web of Pell Grants, federal student loans, tuition tax credits and campus-based aid programs that is unnecessarily convoluted and daunting for parents and students to navigate. Equally important to reforming the federal policies that comprise the aid system is getting more, and more clear, information to potential students and their families that will assist in making the right choices for them.

To read more about the Alliance’s efforts to promote postsecondary completion, click here, or follow both @all4ed and the #fixfinaid hash tag on Twitter.

Bill DeBaun is a policy and advocacy associate at the Alliance for Excellent Education.

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