Better Information Needed for College Search

August 28, 2013

Our organizations applaud the President for bringing two critical issues to the national stage: how to make college more affordable and how to give students, parents, and policymakers better information on college costs and outcomes. As part of the Reimagining Aid Design and Delivery project, we are working to address both of these issues. We embrace the opportunity to participate in this national dialogue.

There is a growing consensus that students do not have the information they need – when and how they need it – to make one of the most important decisions of their lives – where to attend college. College remains the surest pathway into the middle class, but not graduating or taking on too much debt can and does derail this journey for far too many students. Better consumer information up-front about graduation and transfer rates, debt at graduation, employment and earnings of graduates, and other key facts could make a major difference in whether a student ultimately succeeds in college and beyond.

As the discussion about identifying the right information progresses, we also must consider data availability and needed improvements to our existing data systems. For example, as a nation, we cannot currently answer the following key questions:

  • How many part-time, adult, military, remedial, and Pell Grant students are successfully completing their degrees?
  • Are students who don’t graduate transferring to another school or dropping out altogether?
  • Are students getting jobs in the fields they studied in college? Are they going to graduate school?
  • How much are students earning after college, and can they afford to repay their loans, especially if they didn’t complete their studies?

Furthermore, to better serve students from a variety of backgrounds, data broken down by student demographics such as socio-economic, first generation to attend college, and veteran status are critical, but currently limited.

Identifying the right information for students, parents, and policymakers is essential, but this conversation must also include: consideration that the information families need likely differs from the information policymakers need and an examination of what additional data sources are needed to provide both sets of information. In particular, students and parents also need information early, often, and in an easily understandable format. These federal efforts must focus not only on what students need to know, but also on how that information can be delivered effectively. Currently, collecting student level data at the federal level is prohibited, which is a serious detriment to information all audiences need.

Our organizations have started work to answer these important questions.: 

  • What does a student need to know when deciding where to attend college? 
  • Do we have the data available to provide the desired answers, and if not, what are the best ways to get it? 
  • How should these data be used by policymakers? 
  • And how should information be presented in order to have the greatest impact? 

Throughout this fall and winter, we will release a series of papers aimed at answering these important questions. We look forward to contributing to the larger national discussion.

To learn more about our work, please visit here, or contact Carrie Warick, NCAN Director of Partnerships and Policy, at

Center for Law and Social Policy

College Board

Institute for Higher Education Policy

National College Access Network

New America Foundation

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation

Young Invincibles

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