Hello from the White House: What the College Scorecard Means for Students, Institutions and InsideTrack Coaches

On August 4, 2015 I received an email with the subject, “Hello from the White House.”

“Yeah, right,” I thought. But being a tad gullible and relentlessly optimistic, I risked virus and spam to click through to the following:

I’m working on an upcoming high-profile data release for the department of Education, and I’d love to invite InsideTrack to be part of the closed beta period. Being part of the beta would mean advanced access to never-before-available college data, an API key, and access to the experts behind the data release.
Erie Meyer
United States Digital Service
Executive Office of the President
The White House

Not a hoax.

We spoke later that week, and were afforded an invitation to preview what the White House had been working on in the closed beta period. In what we later found out was to be called the College Scorecard, we found a collection of data we’ve always wished could be made available to students, their families and our partner institutions, including net tuition, average student debt, default rates, graduate earnings, etc.

This was unprecedented transparency – imperfect and still evolving, but a huge leap forward for informed consumers and institutional accountability.

After spending some time with the data, we sent the following blurb to the White House team to include in their press release:

InsideTrack’s coaching teams and consultants work to improve student outcomes using the best data and insights available. This data will be added to those efforts and used in our analysis of how well our partner schools are driving long-term student success which in turn will enhance our ability to help our partners develop and implement effective student-centered initiatives. One of our core values at InsideTrack is “open and transparent integrity” which aligns perfectly with this important initiative to make meaningful data available to students and their families. We believe this is an important step in fostering continuous improvement and innovation among our nation’s colleges and universities.

A week before the public release, I virtually attended a demo day at the White House. Ted Mitchell, Under Secretary, U.S. Department of Education, delivered opening remarks and Cecilia Muñoz, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, closed with a call to action to use this data to drive institutional change and accountability.

The six groups to demo products created using the API included the College Board, Start Class, ScholarMatch, Niche and ECMC, all of which created college search and comparison tools focused on a particular demographic or issue in college choice. Such tools will serve as valuable counterparts to the simplified consumer-facing search and comparison tool released by the government on Saturday, September 12.

Part of President Obama’s weekly address that day announced the release of the data and the tool and included comments like this that had me cheering over my morning cup of coffee:

“The status quo serves some colleges and the companies that rank them just fine. But it doesn’t serve our students well — and that doesn’t serve any of us well. There are colleges dedicated to helping students of all backgrounds learn without saddling them with debt. We should hold everybody to that standard. Our economic future depends on it.”

What does this mean to those of us in Higher Education?

It means we have a responsibility to continue helping students and their families navigate their options in higher education and to help our partner institutions drive outcomes that lead to long-term success. When I talked to Erie at the demo day, she explained that efforts like ours help policymakers see why data like this is so important, to help them imagine the possibilities. And she was very excited that we were helping institutions drive continuous improvement in addition to helping students make informed decisions.

It means the availability of the latest data and information can help the students we serve find the right fit. This includes understanding the current strengths and weaknesses of the Scorecard.

It means the voice for student centered approaches and nuanced, individualized student support at scale is growing stronger.

Finally, it means we at InsideTrack and other champions of student success need to keep our focus and forge ahead.

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