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Keeping score

MEGAN BADGER / WIRE PHOTO
Arcadia University, located in Glenside, boasts a graduation rate of 61.8 percent, which falls in the “high” category on the scorecard, and a loan default rate of 4.8 percent, which is 8.6 percent below the national average.

By Megan Badger

Wire Managing Editor

When it comes to choosing a college, there are dozens of factors to consider.

In an effort to simplify the process, the government has created a tool that aims to increase transparency in higher education.

During President Barack Obama’s latest State of the Union address, he announced a new college rating system to help parents and students “get the most bang for your educational buck.” The White House’s College Scorecard tool was made available online on Feb. 13 and breaks down every U.S. college using five key factors: cost, graduation rate, loan default rate, median borrowing and employment. The Scorecard also shows the college’s undergraduate enrollment.

U.S. News and World Report releases its choices in Best Value Schools each year using similar factors. Its main criteria are the college’s quality-to-price ratio, the amount of need-based aid given and the average discount to students.

Instead of creating a list of the best value colleges in the country, College Scorecard simply provides data and leaves the rest up to interpretation. The Scorecard tool makes it simple to see how much a college costs each year, how much of that amount is borrowed and paid back, and how successful the college is in producing employable graduates.

The cost, or “average net price,” is based on what undergraduate students pay on average after grants and scholarships. For four-year schools, the graduation rate is based on how many students receive their bachelor’s degree within six years. For community colleges, the graduation rate is based on the full-time students who graduate within 150 percent of the “expected time for completion.”

The loan default rate is the percentage of students who defaulted on their federal loans within three years of entering repayment. The median borrowing amount is the total funds borrowed per student for undergraduate study. Currently, the employment category is incomplete for most schools, but is designed to show the average earnings of former undergraduate students who have federal loans.

Colleges in Montgomery and Bucks counties each have their own scorecard that assesses their value. For many colleges, the scorecard highlights the strengths of the school, such as high graduation rates and low costs. For others, it reveals data that the college may want to keep to itself.

Arcadia University, located in Glenside, boasts a graduation rate of 61.8 percent, which falls in the “high” category on the scorecard, and a loan default rate of 4.8 percent, which is 8.6 percent below the national average.

The annual cost to attend Arcadia is $24,191 per year, according to the Scorecard, which is deemed “high.” Representatives from Arcadia declined to comment on the college’s scorecard when contacted by the Midweek Wire.

The cost to Penn State University Abington is considered “low” at $11,618 per year, but the median borrowing is above the national average at $23,426. The loan default rate is below the national average and graduation rate is considered “medium” at 44.4 percent.

For local community colleges, the Scorecard reveals low graduation rates, and loan default rates that are close to the national average but higher than four-year schools. However, cost and median borrowing are considered low for most two-year schools.

For Montgomery County Community College, the annual cost is $7,112 and the median borrowing is $8,563, both significantly below the national average. The graduation rate is 11.6 percent, with 25.8 percent transferring to another institution.

Bucks County Community College has a similar graduation rate at 11.2 percent and a slightly lower loan default rate of 9.8 percent. Students at BCCC also borrow less money than most institutions — a total of $5,828 dollars per student and the annual costs are $7,686.

To research universities using the College Scorecard tool, visit www.whitehouse.gov/issues/education/higher-education/college-score-card.

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