Families shopping for colleges now have a new kind of guide, brought to them by the federal government.
Launched Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Education, the College Scorecard departs from the admissions-and-campus-life variety found in college guide books. Instead, reflecting growing concerns about rising tuition and a renewed government interest in holding the nation's colleges accountable for their performance, it's all about the bottom line.
In a simple, easy-to-understand format, the score card shows how much students pay -- and borrow -- to attend an institution, taking into account grants and scholarships. It lists each school's six-year graduation and loan default rates and promises to soon add the kinds of jobs students land after they graduate and what they earn.
"It's actually kind of changing my mind," said Elizabeth Gonzalez, a senior at Oakland's Life Academy of Health and Bioscience.
Gonzalez, 17, said she was shocked to see that fewer than half the students who enrolled at her top choice, San Francisco State, graduated within six years. It's something she needs to think about, she said, before she makes her final decision.
As student loan debt reaches new heights -- nearing $1 trillion last year -- so has the public's demand for practical information about colleges' value and cost, said Michele Siqueiros, executive director of the Campaign for College Opportunity. "I think all of us deserve that kind of information so we can make good choices about where we invest our own time and tuition and fees," she said.
In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Barack Obama argued that a college's value and affordability should factor into how much federal money is made available to its students. Colleges must keep their costs down, he said, and it's the federal government's job to "make sure they do."
The president then told American families they would soon have a new tool to discover "where you can get the most bang for your educational buck."
The site shows, for instance, that families who take out federal loans for UC Berkeley typically borrow $17,249 for an undergraduate education, compared with $13,000 at San Jose State, $22,500 at Santa Clara University and $13,030 at Stanford.
UC Berkeley spokeswoman Janet Gilmore noted that the federal loan amount listed on the site is typical only among those who borrow -- not for all students. Fewer than half of Cal's students are borrowing at all, she said.
Gonzalez's unrelated classmate Benjamin Gonzalez said he, too, would weigh the information about average net prices and graduation rates. Even if he chooses a school with a low graduation rate, he said, "It's actually helpful because I have to be prepared for it and get ready for it."
You can find the College Scorecard at www.whitehouse.gov/issues/education/higher-education/college-score-card.
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