Dreaming of a College Scorecard that really cares

The College Scorecard will not change anything. This is perhaps the most disappointing realization for prospective students. Many of the items that students can now access were already available through the College Navigator system hosted by the National Center for Education Statistics. True, the difference is that now prospective students (a.k.a "consumers" in the increasingly marketized higher education landscape) can also peruse alumni earning outcomes years after they have left college. If, as President Obama proclaims (and we think he is sincere in his beliefs) — that the purpose of the College Scorecard is to provide helpful information for prospective students — then the product seems to fall short of its promise. The College Scorecard is a potential boon for educational researchers who will be eager to disaggregate institutions' alumni incomes, but perhaps it falls short for prospective students who have been the intended audience for the College Scorecard since its inception.

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We do not believe that the architects behind the College Scorecard envisioned it as a panacea for prospective college students' questions and confusions. Instead, we admire the College Scorecard as a helpful first step for individuals seeking a sleek and visually appealing repository of information. But the College Scorecard is insufficient if we do not provide prospective students with the critical literacy around data consumption. Like so many others have stated, educational data must be understood in the context of each institution's landscape. Otherwise, the College Scorecard risks merely replicating the same elitist ideals around college attendance; namely, that the only institutions worth attending are the ones where privilege already abounds.

The College Scorecard has the potential to further demonstrate a unique aspect of the United States' postsecondary sector: the diversity of institutions available for students. Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) are a specific cohort of institutions with laudable missions as they strive to educate populations that have been left underserved for far too long. Unfortunately, the College Scorecard does a disservice to the missions of MSIs by continuing to apply narrow metrics to define student success.

We are, however, heartened by one aspect about the College Scorecard's design: its inclusion of MSIs as a searchable subset of institutions. At the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions, we endeavor to use these data to continue centering the conversation on students' experiences. Our next step is to reimagine new metrics for students to use in their decision-making process. What might it be like if we had a College Scorecard that also sought to understand how many first-generation students persist through completion? Or, what if metrics captured institutions' partnerships with local communities? Or, what if we could identify colleges with innovative resources devoted to minoritized populations? We will begin to address these ideas in an upcoming symposium on Return on Investment at Minority Serving Investments in December 2015 and invite others to join us in this conversation.

Samayoa is a Ph.D. candidate and research assistant at the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions at the University of Pennsylvania. Gasman is professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania and director of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions.