Department of Education Introduces ‘College Scorecard’ Tool

President Barack Obama speaking at the University at Buffalo in 2013. (Keith Srakocic/Associated Press).

Over the weekend, the Obama administration released a new digital tool crafted to help students determine whether a particular school is worth the cost, abandoning its college ranking plan.

The so-called College Scorecard crunches federal data and spits out a college’s average annual cost, graduation rate and the median salary of former students.

The massive amount of data shows that at more than a quarter of the country’s colleges, a majority of students who received federal financial aid were earning less than $25,000 annually 10 years after they enrolled. At a time when price-conscious students and their families are demanding a return on their investment, the Education Department says the Scorecard should help them make better college choices.

Earlier: Education Department Unveils College Rating Plan

But economists argue the real problem is that today’s labor market doesn’t provide enough well-paying jobs for college graduates. Political scientist Richard Kazis points out that 28 percent of people with Associate’s degrees make more money than the average four-year graduate.

“So the question is, ‘Did you choose right?’ And if you’re choosing a sociology or a psychology program in community college, you better move on to finish that at a four-year school or you’ll be at the bottom of that distribution and it won’t have paid off for you,” he said.

The Obama administration had previously planned to rank colleges and universities, but it scrapped that idea after leaders in the higher education sector said graduation rates and median salaries don’t necessarily indicate whether a college is doing a good job.

Related: A New Kind of College Ranking

[Cross-posted at On Campus: the WGBH News Higher Education Blog]

Kirk Carapezza

Kirk Carapezza is the lead reporter for On Campus. Kirk has reported for Wisconsin Public Radio in Madison, Wis., and Vermont Public Radio in Montpelier, Vt. He's been a writer and producer at WBUR in Boston; a teacher and coach at Nativity Preparatory School in New Bedford, Mass.; a Fenway Park tour guide; and a tourist abroad.

Kirk received his B.A. from the College of the Holy Cross and earned his M.S. from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. When he's not reporting or editing stories on campus, you can find him posting K's on the Wall at Fenway.