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Policy Proposals

Grading Higher Education: Giving Consumers the Information They Need

December 3, 2010

The Problem

Higher education is in the midst of a transformation that includes ever-rising costs, increasing student debt levels, and a marked change in the typical student profile, shifting from the traditional student just out of high school to more working adults balancing competing demands of family and employment. For students of all types, ample resources are available to help them  prepare for the college admissions process, but far fewer resources exist to help students navigate the college selection process.

The Proposal

An institutional “scorecard” that covers key areas of consideration would help prospective students make more-informed decisions before applying to colleges. Information on types of degrees offered, student body demographics, institutional selectivity, cost and affordability, college experience, student services, graduation rates, employment statistics, and long-term wage benefits should all be included. This considerable undertaking would feature the federal government as the central clearinghouse and administrator of the effort, with a range of educational stakeholders serving as partners.


Potential students and their families must navigate a labyrinth of incomplete and uncertain information when deciding where to go to college, what to study, or what career to pursue. The result, in too many cases, is an array of poor choices being made every day, as exemplified in low completion rates, more students taking longer to complete degrees, and large student debt relative to income. This proposal calls for the federal government to expand the types of information that are available and allow users to compare indicators like cost, financial aid, student debt, employment outcomes, and average salaries following graduation, across peer institutions. It also calls for dissemination, making sure that the information collected is available to all who could benefit. Improving the information available to consumers, assembling it in clear ways, and actively disseminating the information will lead consumers to make more informed education decisions that will likely improve post-college outcomes.