Sunday, May 20 , 2018, 9:28 am | Mostly Cloudy 61º

 
 
 
 
Advice

What Parents Need To Know about the New College Scorecard

For the first time, the US government has jumped into the business of evaluating colleges, launching a website meant to provide useful consumer information about college cost and value.  

College Scorecard emerged as a compromise after many college presidents bitterly fought the idea of strict hierarchy, pressuring President Obama to back off a bit.  

So what are we to make of this new website and how is it useful to families in Santa Barbara?

First and foremost, the website is meant to protect the most vulnerable college applicants: students from first-generation and low-income families who've been getting fleeced.  

Sadly, many colleges operating in U.S. today offer very little value for the money, with abysmal graduation rates and very high student debt. Even graduates of such institutions find that their degrees barely boost their earnings in the workforce.

Scorecard identifies the worst offenders and is meant to shame them or even drive them out of business.  

At the opposite end, the government's website reveals the colleges with the highest graduation rates, lowest student debt and highest average earnings after graduation.  

But surprise, surprise, it turns out that these are largely the old, famous and nearly-impossible-to-get-into colleges that everyone's heard of.  

The UC's receive praise as public universities, but as Californians know, getting in and graduating in four years can be tough.  

So what about families in the middle, those with moderate to high incomes whose children have good but not exceptional grades and scores?  

Here, a little insider information goes a long way.

Forbes magazine has quietly been rating colleges for several years using metrics similar to the federal government's — their scorecard also emphasizes return on investment (ROI) and gives colleges a financial grade from A to F.

The trick is to examine the schools ranked between, say, 50 and 200, those with high graduation rates, happy alumni and financial grades of A- or better, which tend not to be household names. 

These are the colleges with the institutional resources to offer merit scholarships and grants instead of loans for financial aid. 

Such places, where nearly everyone graduates in four years, will often match the in-state tuition that a family would otherwise have paid their state's public universities, and their records at placing students in graduate school is typically superb.

Does a student need to be a rocket scientist to qualify? No, but having grades and scores near the middle 50 percent of the admitted student profile helps.  

Keep in mind, the real savings may come in having your child graduate in four years, recouping an entire year's tuition.

Also remember that these schools, which are relatively obscure, suffer a shortage of well-prepared students with modest financial need. This gives them a big incentive to pursue kids from Santa Barbara and similar communities, especially when they can contribute athletically or artistically.  

Will President Obama's new website end the turmoil and confusion facing today's college applicants? No, but by placing the emphasis on the relative performance of America's colleges, he has given families much more clout as consumers, and that can only be a good thing.  

— Matt Struckmeyer is director of college counseling at Dunn School in Los Olivos. He can be reached for questions or comments at [email protected]. He offers a college counseling bootcamp every August as part of Dunn's summer program, and he also gives talks to schools and community organizations on the changing landscape of college admission.

 

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