Parents who are paying ever-growing amounts of money for a bachelor’s degree need more information to make smart decisions, and students too often pick colleges in a vacuum. When researching schools, it never occurs to many parents or students to ask about job placement rates, graduation rates and the kind of college debt that students at a particular college accumulate.

But in February, the government unveiled an online College Scorecard, which President Obama says will allow families to “compare schools based on a simple criteria: where you can get the most bang for your educational buck.”

It’s a noble goal. And the new College Scorecard will allow clients to find statistics for individual institutions in these five areas:

·      School net price after typical scholarships and grants are subtracted

·      Graduation rate

·      Median college loan debt

·      Loan default rate

·      Employment rates

Job Placement

One of the most promising pieces of information that the scorecard could provide is employment data for a school’s graduates, but currently this information is missing. Instead, the scorecard advises visitors to inquire about the track record of each institution on job placement and salaries. But job statistics that schools provide to families are notoriously unreliable because they depend on voluntary surveys that alumni may or may not complete.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers, including Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has sponsored a bill that would require the states to gather and disseminate data on what graduates at individual schools are earning, as well as their average debt.

Some states aren’t waiting for a federal mandate to collect employment data. Virginia, Tennessee and Arkansas are already gathering school-specific employment and salary data and making it available to consumers. The push for job placement transparency is also accelerating in such states as Texas, Colorado, Nevada, Florida and California.

CollegeMeasures.org, a partnership between Matrix Knowledge Group and the American Institutes for Research, includes salary data on schools in Arkansas, Tennessee and Virginia. On the site, for example, I discovered that business majors at the University of Richmond were making $2,500 to $19,000 more than business graduates at other programs in the state. In Tennessee, graduates of the University of Memphis were earning the highest salaries ($40,401) while graduates of the University of Tennessee Chattanooga earned the least ($35,650).

Graduating on Time

One of the best ways to shrink the cost of college is to graduate on time.

At private and public institutions, just 52.5 percent and 31.3 percent of students, respectively, are earning bachelor’s degree in the traditional eight semesters. 

The federal scorecard, however, currently only provides the six-year graduation rates of institutions. (I doubt your clients want their children to linger in school that long.) If your clients are struggling to pay tuition for an extra two years of college, that could mean that they end up investing less with you.

The Chronicle of Higher Education, which can be accessed at collegecompletion.chronicle.com, provides four-year graduation rates.

The site has compiled the grad rates of 3,800 schools, broken down by ethnicity and gender. It also includes four-, five- and six-year rates.

While the new federal scorecard has flaws, it represents a promising trend toward sharing valuable information with consumers that will ultimately empower them to be smarter college shoppers.