The College Scorecard: Implications for the Christian College

The Department of Education recently released the College Scorecard, which aggregates great piles of data from every college and university that accepts Title IV aid. The results are readily available to prospective students and their families to slice and dice in any number of ways.

By now you’ve probably looked to see how your school’s report card looks. If you haven’t, you should; your prospective students and their parents certainly will. Be sure you know your strengths and are ready to address any weaknesses the data might reveal.

The College Scorecard doesn’t rank schools. It does, however, provide an average for every data category (net cost of attendance, alumni earnings, graduation rates, etc.), making it easy for user to see whether a school is above average or below average in a given category. The tool also allows users to compare multiple schools according to multiple categories.

For all its ease of use, however, the College Scorecard presents challenges for Christian colleges. Its values, don’t line up with the values that have traditionally been associated with higher education, whether Christian or secular. A letter to the editor of the New York Times put it this way:

Regrettably, the administration’s College Scorecard provides no information about either the quality of college learning or the role of higher education in building capacities we need in a free and democratic society. Its message to students is that they should seek out institutions that seem to promise the highest salaries, with no questions asked about the rigor, breadth, creativity or global reach of the actual curriculum.

Average earning by alumni presents particular challenges for many Christian liberal arts schools, insofar as the data doesn’t account for the fact that some fields have more earning power than other fields. If a school turns out lots of pastors and teachers and counselors, it should come as no surprise if its alumni earn less on average than the alumni of a school that trains stock brokers or engineers. The lower salaries of liberal arts graduates don’t represent a failure on the part of liberal arts colleges, though the “hard data” of the College Scorecard gives that impresson.

In next week’s post, we’ll look more closely at the “Salary After Attending” category and some ways that Christian colleges can address the challenges that this category creates.