Editorial: Reading between the lines

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You’re faced with what’s probably one of the biggest decisions you’ve come across in your 18 years of life — where to attend college. The thought of making a multi-year commitment to one institution can be daunting. You’re torn between schools, and can’t seem to decide which would better fit your needs.

In an effort to provide students with information to help them make their college decision, the Obama administration created the College Scorecard. According to NPR, the scorecard allows students to see how well their money will be spent. The scorecard represents data from the government federal loan program and indicates how much students pay for school, how much they earn after graduation and how much debt they will be left with. It is a data set with 1,730 variables on over 7,000 schools.  It also shows the important facts of private or public, size, time to complete a degree, location, graduation rate, retention, student body, test scores and academic programs.

But, is the scorecard as helpful as it could be? Despite the informative intent of the website, the numbers are quite misleading.

According to Lehigh’s scorecard, the average annual cost of attendance is $29,418, the graduation rate is 87 percent and salary after attending is $76,800 — all higher than the national average. The Lehigh University Admissions Office website states that tuition is $45,860, but the total expected cost of attendance is $60,575 — more than double $29,418.

Just because average annual cost of attendance, graduation rate and salary after attending are all featured on the website, it doesn’t mean that’s all there is to the data. These main statistics can be misleading, especially when you consider the fact that it only represents data pulled from the government federal loan program — namely, only students receiving federal financial aid.

Additionally, it’s important to read between the lines and look further than bold statistics. There is more to deciding on a school than these numbers, though understanding the associated finances is useful. The scorecard doesn’t present information in the clearest way, and even if it did, that doesn’t mean it should be the single source of information.

Just as there’s a lot of components that go into choosing a school, there are many resources from which to do research. Visiting the website of the university can reveal important facts about advanced programs, popular majors and community involvement outside of the classroom — all important factors in the college search.

Furthermore, the College Scorecard can’t solely tell a prospective student if the institution is a good fit for them. There’s no way to know without visiting and researching the school, and even then it’s not always easy to tell. The scorecard can’t give us all of the answers.

The College Scorecard is a good idea in theory, but in practice, it still needs to be improved. It’s not very straightforward and doesn’t include valuable details about schools. Consequently, this may cause students to believe that the information presented is a good representation of the school, when they really have a skewed impression.

The statistics given by the scorecard don’t define the school. Therefore, students shouldn’t make their decision only based off the College Scorecard, and they should do additional research on the school to make their decision. Like many situations in life, it is necessary to read between the lines — or in this case, the numbers.

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