A Call for Simpler Tools to Help Students Answer the College-Value Question

With the cost of college constantly climbing, and student-debt levels rising along with it, the question of whether higher education offers a good return on investment increasingly is asked by prospective students and their families. But often the question is not challenging the value of a college credential per se, just the value an individual student might expect to gain from attending a specific college, says a new article from Education Sector, a nonpartisan think tank for education reform.

The article, “Degrees of Value: Evaluating the Return on the College Investment,” acknowledges that the answer is often ambiguous, despite the growing number of tools that offer information on colleges’ costs, graduation rates, employment outcomes, and other data. The article looks at the benefits and limitations of a number of those tools, including the White House’s recently released College Scorecard, state databases on college graduates’ earnings, and The Chronicle’s own new tool, College Reality Check.

“Students need simpler tools that allow them to pull up the information they need—from graduation rates that account for all students (or students like them) to lifetime career earnings that go beyond the first, often poorest, year-after-graduation salaries,” the article says. “With more comprehensive, accessible data, institutions will have a clearer picture of their outcomes, and students and their families will have a better chance of answering the value question.”

The article’s authors are Andrew Gillen, Education Sector’s research director; Jeffrey Selingo, a senior fellow with the nonpartisan group and editor at large of The Chronicle; and Mandy Zatynski, a writer and editor with Education Sector.

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