Potential students and their families will have access to in-depth data and statistics concerning graduation rate, annual cost and more for over 7,000 universities with the help of the new College Scorecard website unveiled by President Barack Obama.
Unlike other websites, College Scorecard drops the typical numbered ranking system that pits universities against one another.
Instead, the website is designed to ensure that users discover the best possible financial investment through searches filtered by location, university size, degree, program, annual cost and more.
“I think it is important for there to be various data banks made available for students to use when selecting a school,” said Maris Stella Swift, a professor in the Grand Valley State University Seidman College of Business. “It is unfortunate that most people do more research about a car than the college they will attend.”
A ranking system for College Scorecard was purposely avoided because it meant loss of federal student aid money as well as public shame for universities listed near the bottom.
The website intends to give a well-informed perspective of each university by presenting data on average annual cost, graduation rate, average graduate salary, diversity among students, typical total debt, percentage of returning students, popular and available programs and more.
“I would encourage students to use all the resources available to them to learn about institutions available,” said Bart Merkle, dean of students at GVSU. “This site may be one tool. I would also encourage prospective students to visit every institution they’re considering and are interested in because there’s chemistry to every institution, there’s an ambiance and environment you can’t convey through written word and websites. It’s a feel.”
GVSU placed high above the national average in both graduation rate and percentage of students returning after their first year.
According to College Scorecard, 68 percent of students attending GVSU will end up graduating compared to the national average of 44 percent.
As for students entering their second year, 82 percent of GVSU students return, well above the 67 percent national average.
Merkle said there are several factors that can explain these statistics. He attributes the first reason to the versatile abilities of student selected to attend GVSU.
“We have a very capable student body,” Merkle said. “We are a selective institution; students come pretty well-prepared and capable of doing academic work at college level.”
GVSU also takes pride in operating in a way that is different than the typical big university way, operating as a “big, small college,” Merkle said.
“The university can’t make every student successful – we can’t make any student successful, they have to do that themselves – but what we can do is provide an atmosphere that supports learning. (We) provide a variety of support services through our faculty and staff that can help students grapple with issues getting in their way of being successful academically or personally,” Merkle said.
Retention rates at GVSU were calculated at 82 percent, which is 15 percent above the national average. However, the university has recorded retention rates of over 86 percent in earlier years, a decline the university is looking to fix. One of those efforts is the introduction of “The Grand Finish.” The program works as an incentive to reward students who complete 90 credit hours by their third year with a $1,000 grant.
“A part of the incentive program is to encourage students to stay on track to graduate,” Merkle said. “If you get to 90 hours at the end of third year, your probability of graduating is pretty high. You only have 30 plus credits to where you need to graduate.”
One area of struggle for the university could be seen through the breakdown of diversity on campus. GVSU’s student body was listed as being 84 percent white, with the next-highest race being the 5 percent of black students.
“This fall our percentage of students of color is up to 16.3 percent – that’s above where it was last year, we were 15 (percent),” Merkle said. “We’re not where we want to be, but we’re continuing to improve.”
Areas the site focuses on include costs, financial aid and debt, graduation and retention, earnings after graduation and other relevant information to be used when evaluating the education students are receiving.
“GVSU is not the right place for everyone, but for a lot of students this is a really nice environment,” Merkle said. “We’re big enough to have resources and a broad curriculum, at the same time we operate like a big, small college. If you want to talk to someone, you can get in to see them. That’s not true at every place.”
To view the full list of statistics for GVSU and other universities, visit www.collegescorecard.ed.gov.