Deconstructing and Reconstructing the College Scorecard

By Betsy Prueter

The Brookings Institution recently analyzed the federal government’s new college scorecard to determine the extent to which it provides reliable data and how useful it is for comparing institutions. The new iteration of the scorecard provides a link between individual institutions and their federal financial aid recipients’ median incomes 10 years after entry. The income data is gathered from three sources: the FAFSA, the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS) and IRS tax data.

While the report agrees that the new scorecard is an improvement over prior versions, it also points out several flaws. Among the primary concerns:

  • Because salary data is only based on students who received financial aid, a significant portion of students are left out of individual institution’s calculations.
  • Salary data is credited to any institution a student attended with federal student aid. This can be problematic given that 60% of students in public 4-year institutions have transferred in. The report argues that families might want salary data disaggregated by students who attended the university but did not earn their degree there vs. students who graduated from that institution.
  • The salary data provided on the scorecard does not differentiate by program or major field of study.
  • Research tells us that the more Pell grant students a university enrolls, the lower the “salary after attending” will be for that institution. This is because family income and background plays a significant role in future earnings. The report suggests families would be better off seeing salary breakdowns by student demographics so that students can get a feel for how students with similar backgrounds compare.