Students and families deserve better data. Congress can make it happen.
Americans with bachelor’s degrees stand to make $1 million more in their careers than those with just high school diplomas. Meanwhile, the sticker prices of colleges and loan-default rates have soared, and only 60 percent of enrollees earn a degree within six years. It’s never been more important for students and their families to choose the right school.
A minor outbreak of cooperation in Congress could soon make this a little easier. Broadly bipartisan bills in both chambers would build on previous measures to make the costs and benefits of higher education a bit less opaque.
The College Scorecard, devised by the Obama administration, offers prospective students and their families data on admissions, average costs, availability of aid, student demographics and, perhaps most important, graduation rates and median earnings — all on a user-friendly website.
But the scorecard has its shortcomings. In particular, important information is based only on students who receive some sort of federal financial aid. This stems from a 2008 congressional ban on a larger federal database of disaggregated student information. As a result, neither the Education Department nor the National Center for Education Statistics, an independent federal agency, can gather comprehensive data and align it with information from the IRS, Social Security Administration and Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Universities are required to report some additional information, but this too is incomplete.