Most parents and students usually have no idea how to locate colleges  that won’t disappoint them. Thanks to new higher-education players, however, researching schools has become easier.

Here are four valuable new websites that your clients should be using to conduct due diligence on colleges and universities:

College Measures

Pinpointing a college’s return-on-investment or ROI has traditionally been nearly impossible, but a website called CollegeMeasures.org is changing this. While there are powerful amounts of information about schools, it is kept in data warehouses on the local, state and national levels. With easy-to-use interfaces, College Measures unlocks this information by making the data easily searchable.  

With College Measures, for instance, you can search for schools using such factors as starting salaries, freshmen retention rates, and money an institution spends per student. Much of the information (except salaries) comes from the federal Department of Education.

It only took me 10 seconds to generate a list of schools that spent the most per capita on instruction. Schools in the top 10 included Yale University, Washington University in St. Louis, Cal Tech, Vanderbilt University, Columbia University and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

In addition, College Measures has salary data for five states (Virginia, Texas, Colorado, Arkansas and Tennessee) for individual schools within their borders, but also within a school’s academic majors. Florida and Nevada will be the next states to come on board.

By the way, for hundreds of schools in other states, College Measures provides PayScale.com salary information.

College Abacus

Wouldn’t it be nice to search for discounted college prices just as you do for cheap airline tickets through websites like Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity?

After providing their household’s financial information on CollegeAbacus.com just once, parents can capture the net price (sticker price minus grants/scholarships) of any school in the country for their child.

All schools must offer net price calculators on their websites, but it can be tedious typing in the same information for each school. College Abacus expects to have the net pricing information for all four-year colleges by September. Many schools are already on the site.

College Abacus also provides an excellent online tool to interpret financial aid letters, which can be confusing even for college-educated parents.

College Completion

When I give college talks in California, parents routinely gasp when I share four-year grad rates of schools such as San Francisco State (14.2 percent) and San Jose State (7.9 percent). Horrible grad rates are hardly confined to California. Nationally, the four-year grad rate at state schools is 31.3 percent, compared to 52.5 percent at private schools.

CollegeCompletion.Chronicle.com, a microsite of The Chronicle of Higher Education, tracks overall grad rates for schools, broken down by gender and ethnicity. You can also click a link and compare a school’s grad rates with its peer institutions.

College Reality Check

CollegeRealityCheck.com, also from The Chronicle of Higher Education, allows you to easily locate the following statistics for thousands of schools in these areas:

·      Average net price

·      Graduation rates

·      Average student debt upon graduation

·      Student loan default rate

You can sort schools nationally or within a particular state by using any of the above categories.  You can also sort by size and selectivity of the schools.

For example, I used the tool to find highly selective schools in New York state by net price for people making between $75,000 and $110,000. Near the top of the list that I generated were institutions like Columbia University ($15,887), Vassar College ($21,728), and Hamilton College ($21,367) with their net prices. Clearly a family in that income range would be in line for a tremendous amount of financial aid from these schools.