What’s Missing From the College Scorecard?

What’s Missing From the College Scorecard?
Tim Monzingo/The Daily Sentinel via AP
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This month, the higher education world was buzzing with news of the updates to the federal government’s College Scorecard. Perhaps with good reason: The College Scorecard takes a critical step toward providing education consumers with the sort of data they need to make better-informed decisions about their educational investments. This update included the ability to easily compare up to 10 institutions, an important feature for students interested in narrowing their searches. But as informative as the Scorecard may be, it still falls short of offering the sort of practical, program-level information that aspiring college students need to compare the institutions and fields of study in which they are considering investing.

As in every other aspect of their consumer lives, aspiring undergraduates are hungry for both quantitative data, like graduation rates and employment outcomes, and qualitative data, like consumer satisfaction levels. They want to understand how their peers rate and perceive the value of higher education brands and “products.” Earlier this year, 51 percent of education consumers told Gallup and Strada Education Network that they had regrets concerning their postsecondary decisions. If they had to do it all over again, 36 percent would choose a different major and 28 percent would choose a different school altogether. 

With skepticism about the worth of a college degree at an all-time high, colleges and universities would be wise to think hard about the sources of postsecondary education buyer’s remorse and redouble efforts to quantify metrics that student-consumers need to understand how specific programs can help them to achieve their career and life goals.

In a time when consumers are asked daily for opinions on everything from lattes to lawn chairs, too many colleges and universities still aren’t thinking of students as consumers. Here are four steps that higher education leaders and administrators can take to get ahead of the curve:

  1. Improve institutional data systems. An institution may need to strengthen its data tools to track student performance, progress, completion and supplement these with an indicator that assesses how the college contributes to the employability and career-readiness of students, as well as whether or not graduates feel personally and professionally fulfilled.
  2. Inform student and career advising. Information on the prospective employment, earnings and demand for skills for students in specific majors should be available to incoming students. But, career advising is also about expanding students’ horizons. Savvy advising isn’t about valuing one career or field over another, but it should make students more fully aware of what return on investment (ROI) to expect from different fields of study – depending on the jobs open to their skillsets following graduation.
  3. Build stronger partnerships with employers. Prospective students want to know if alumni launched smoothly into careers. This month’s Education Consumer Pulse report from Gallup and Strada Education Network told us that students are hungry for work-related sources of advice to help them select their fields of study. Colleges and universities need to think about their relationship with employers as a partnership. Students aren’t the only consumers of higher education; treating employers like customers will help institutions align both programs and expectations to dramatically improve today’s talent pipeline.
  4. Survey current student and alumni perspectives. Ask alumni about their overall satisfaction with the education they received, the value they place on their college experience and how they believe college contributed to their post-graduation success. Use the results to inform strategic and programmatic decisions. Current students should also be asked how well prepared they feel to enter the workforce.

While these data and tools are helping students assess the value of their educational investments, institutions themselves can also use better data to improve program content and help students choose the right path. The Gallup-Purdue Index found that when universities pay attention to factors students associate with positive outcomes later in life, they tend to have a more positive take on the economic return of their educational investment. 

Incorporating additional and more nuanced program-level data creates opportunities to improve both personal decisions and institutional success. The blending of qualitative and quantitative data allows college leaders and administrators to see which programs are thriving and which need improvement. And it reflects our collective obligation to provide prospective students with the tools to make better-informed decisions. Over time, consumer insights and data will become the industry standard as students become better informed about the education pathways that deliver the best outcomes – and as the higher education community searches for new and better ways to communicate its impact and mission.

Carol D’Amico is executive vice president of Mission Advancement and Philanthropy at Strada Education Network. She is the former chancellor of Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana and served as assistant secretary of education for adult and vocational education from 2001-2003.

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