The College Scorecard now has more detailed data on programs and majors. AP Photo/Seth Wenig

New College Scorecard could help students choose better colleges, but there’s still room to improve it

The U.S. Department of Education is out with a new version of its College Scorecard – an online tool meant to help students and families make more informed decisions about where to attend college.

As an economist who examines how college choice can impact how much money you make in the future, I see a lot value in the new College Scorecard. But I also see some areas where it could be improved so that it’s more useful for the general public.

Here are five things to know about the new College Scorecard and how useful it will or won’t be.

1. Connects majors and salaries

To me, the most interesting and useful feature of the new College Scorecard is how it allows prospective students to see what kind of salary they can expect to earn – and how much student loan debt they can expect to owe – based on what major they choose. The lower the ratio of student debt to income is for a major, the higher the value of the investment in that major. The new Scorecard lets them examine how the investment value varies across different colleges and universities. This in turn will help prospective students figure out which school delivers the best value.

Will more information work? Well, there is evidence that “informational nudging” can get people to invest in further education. Since the new College Scorecard gives people an idea of how much they can expect to earn if they choose a particular major, this could help them make better decisions about which college to attend.

2. Shows you the debt risk

Another nice feature about the new College Scorecard is that it includes the three-year student loan default rate at each college. This lets you see how many graduates at a particular school are able to pay back their student loans. The ability to pay back students loans is generally a good indicator of how well colleges and universities are preparing their graduates for the job market.

3. Won’t replace college rankings

The raw data in the College Scorecard are rather unwieldy. It takes a lot to organize and understand the data. This data will be useful for researchers. But for the general public, it’s going to pose a problem. While the College Scorecard web portal offers some broad metrics that are “point-and-click,” they’re not at the detail provided by, for example, the U.S. News & World Report’s annual college rankings.

4. Can shine light on different types of colleges

The new data that shows you the average student loan debt and the three-year student loan default rates can help inform students about whether it’s beneficial or risky to attend a certain type of college, such as a historically black college or university (more commonly known as an HBCU).

I myself have already done this using the old College Scorecard. I found that going to an HBCU can have a wage-boosting effect. Now, with the new College Scorecard, I can take my research a step further to see if particular majors make a difference among students who go to HBCUs.

5. Of no use where there’s no WiFi

More people might use the College Scorecard if it’s marketed broadly. Of course, students need internet access to use it – and not all students do. A 2018 federal report found significant racial and economic gaps in the percentages of children with computer and internet access at home. For instance, 66% of white and 63% of Asian children had home access to a computer and the internet, versus 53% for black, 52% for Hispanic and 49% American Indian/Alaska Native children. The report also found gaps based on a family’s income and level of education. This divide will affect who does and doesn’t get to use the new College Scorecard.

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