Long before U.S. News & World Report began issuing its famed college rankings, aspiring college students and their families have been seeking ways to sort through thousands of post-secondary options.
Now the federal government has gotten into the business. The Department of Education on Saturday debuted its long-anticipated, revamped “College Scorecard,” aimed at providing ways for prospective students to compare college options, with an eye toward return on investment. While the online scorecard is not a ranking, the University of Virginia receives high marks.
The scorecard focuses largely on three metrics: net cost after financial aid, the six-year graduation rate and the median income of federal financial aid recipients 10 years after matriculation.
While each of the more than 7,800 schools profiled has its own listing and there is no top-to-bottom ranking, the website does highlight “23 schools with low costs that lead to high incomes,” “15 public four-year colleges with high graduation leading to high incomes,” and “30 four-year schools with high graduation rates and low costs.”
Only three universities appear on all three of those lists: the Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor ... and the University of Virginia.
“The new College Scorecard reaffirms several truths that distinguish U.Va. as one of the premier values in higher education,” University President Teresa A. Sullivan said. “We offer an education that is both excellent and affordable, and our graduation rates are among the best in the nation.”
U.Va.’s College at Wise also received high marks for its low net cost – under $8,900 per year – and low student debt levels.
The rankings are based on data collected even before the University began instituting its new “Affordable Excellence” plan that significantly reduces student indebtedness. The plan – which will cut the net cost of a U.Va. education for about 70 percent of Virginia households – took effect with this year’s entering class.
Under the Affordable Excellence model, the maximum amount of need-based loans Virginia families would potentially accrue during a four-year undergraduate career will be reduced by $10,000. Beginning this fall, for Virginians demonstrating high financial need, maximum student loan indebtedness dropped from $14,000 to $4,000. For all other in-state students qualifying for need-based loans, maximum indebtedness dropped from $28,000 over four years to $18,000. The lowered indebtedness has been extended to all current in-state students with demonstrated need.
In the revised plan, a high-financial-need Virginian who earns a degree from the University will have a maximum monthly loan payment of $50 per month, versus a payment of $146 per month under the previous program.
Through its AccessUVa financial aid program, U.Va. meets 100 percent of the demonstrated need of all undergraduate students. It is one of only two universities to meet full need for all in-state and out-of-state students and also to offer admission on a need-blind basis. A student’s family finances are considered only after an offer of admission has been extended.
The College Scorecard site lists U.Va.’s average net cost – defined as the total cost of attendance, minus federal, state and institutional financial aid, based on in-state rates – as $17,149. The six-year graduation rate is listed as 93 percent. The median salary – defined as the salary that a federal aid recipient received 10 years after starting at the school – is listed as $58,600.
There are limitations to the College Scorecard data. The salary numbers, for instance, are institution-wide figures that do not take into account students’ majors – though news outlets noted that such breakdowns might be included in future versions of the site. The net price does not cover out-of-state students. And most would agree that the value of a college degree goes well beyond one’s eventual paycheck.
The College Scorecard’s institutional profiles also include several additional metrics. It breaks down average net cost by family income levels. It lists the percentage of students receiving federal loans, the average debt of graduates, their average monthly payments and the percentage of graduates who are paying off their debts. It lists graduation and retention rates, and what percentage of college graduates six years after entering college make more than the $25,000 average of those with only a high school diploma. It includes total enrollment, plus measures of ethnic and socio-economic diversity. It lists typical test score ranges, plus the majors each school offers and their most popular majors.
The College Scorecard also includes a data site that allows users to view or even download the data upon which the profiles are built.