U.S. Department of Education officials rolled out a new tool Wednesday that officials say will help students and parents compare colleges more easily.
The department's new College Scorecard, announced by President Barack Obama in Tuesday's State of the Union address, allows users to compare colleges and universities against their peer institutions on a number of factors, including average cost, graduation rate and employment prospects.
During the address, Obama said the tool was part of an effort to improve access to higher education and make college more affordable.
“To grow our middle class, our citizens must have access to the education and training that today's jobs require,” Obama said. “But we also have to make sure that America remains a place where everyone who's willing to work hard has the chance to get ahead.”
Oklahoma higher education Chancellor Glen Johnson said he expected Oklahoma's public colleges and universities to fare well in the scorecard.
Citing recent national rankings in which Oklahoma performed well in terms of affordability and average student debt, Johnson said affordability is a major priority for the state's higher education system.
“Based on what we know from our early analysis of the College Scorecard, Oklahoma would fare very well,” Johnson said.
But the scorecard isn't without its detractors. One of the main problems with the scorecard is that it only helps students who seek it out, said Rachel Fishman, a policy analyst for the nonprofit New America Foundation.
The information the tool includes can be helpful, she said, but only if it reaches the students and parents who need it.
Education officials should make sure the information included in the scorecard is given to every high school student, she said. That presents a problem, she said, since administration officials likely couldn't take that step without a law requiring it.
While the tool doesn't provide an outright ranking of schools, it allows the user to see an average net price for each school along with a rough estimate of how that school's rates compare with similar institutions.
For example, the University of Oklahoma's net price is listed as $15,289 per year. According to the tool, that cost is low to medium compared to its peer institutions.
Oklahoma State University shows an average net price of $12,990, which places the university at the low end of its peer group.
The tool doesn't specify which institutions are considered for comparison. That could present a problem for parents and students who are trying to get a clearer picture of the cost of college, Fishman said.
Although showing how each institution compares to other similar schools gives context to the numbers, families may be considering different factors when considering colleges. As a result, the other universities the U.S. Department of Education counts as peer institutions may not be relevant to a family's decision.
“They don't really show what the similar institutions are,” Fishman said. “A little transparency can go a long way.”
To learn more
For more information on the College Scorecard, go to www.