By KRISTA BYRD
On the weekend of Sept. 14, President Obama unveiled the revamped Department of Education College Scorecard website. In addition, Obama also released plans to streamline the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which will make it easier for students to file for financial aid.
College Scorecard previously ranked colleges based on data like graduation rates and number of students, but now the site has released new data including the percentage of graduates who pay back their student loans on schedule. The website also provides the average earnings of graduates from each institution, as well as the average amount of debt for each student (including graduates) from each school.
While the web isn’t typically the only resource students and parents look at when choosing a school, it can often be the first step in deciding where to apply. Students like Melissa Pegley, a senior PR major, found websites to be a good starting point when looking for the right school.
“I definitely looked at the websites of the colleges I was considering, but most of it was actually presentations at my high school,” said Pegley. “I actually chose UT very early on, I committed at the beginning of my senior year; there were some fees waived and you were guaranteed not to be deferred.”
The College Scorecard data not only reveals that UTampa has a cost that is well above the national average ($27955 per year, while the national average is $16789), but that graduates also on average make $44,400 annually– a higher income than the national average of $34,343. UT students also have an above-average graduation rate of 59 percent, and 95 percent are full-time students.
“I do think tools like this provide a snapshot of the institution, and this information along with other information– college visits, institution website, campus culture, et cetera– must also be taken into account when evaluating institutional effectiveness,” said Stephanie Krebs, Dean of Students.
Krebs is happy that there is an easy, accessible method for students and prospective students to find government collected data, but hopes that students remember that they play a role in the score of the school.
“In addition, it is student performance that drives guides like the Scorecard, so it is in everyone’s best interest that our students succeed, as so much weight is now given to retention, graduation and wages,” said Krebs.
The Obama Administration is also streamlining the FAFSA and financial aid filing process so that students no longer have to wait until they have already been accepted to a college to find out how much aid they are eligible for.
Under the current process, students seeking aid file the FAFSA starting in January for the school year that begins in August of that same year. For students (or their parents) who don’t file their federal tax returns until as late as April, finding out if they qualify for aid can come after they have chosen a school. This leaves some students stuck in schools they can’t afford, because they already committed prior to receiving aid information.
The new guidelines allow students to file a FAFSA as early as October 2016 for the 2017-2018 school year using their 2015 income tax return data. This allows more time to choose a school based on the financial aid package offered.
While the changes will make for an easier process in the future, some current students find it to be more confusing.
“I think it’s a little odd. Two years is a long time. I didn’t have a job two years ago, so I don’t know how that would affect my financial aid compared to supporting myself as I was last year,” said Pegley.
Filing the FAFSA will also become easier, with improvements being made to the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. Students and their parents will be able to spend less time searching for documents by answering a few simple questions.
With all of the changes being made to the process, there are still some issues that students run into. Students are still counted as a dependent, regardless of their living situation. This means parents have to file their information even if the student is no longer actually a dependent. This is the issue that USF graduate Jenny Hernandez ran into while filing her FAFSA.
“Since you have to count your parents’ income until a certain age, [my mom] usually [filed the FAFSA]. I feel like including their income is extremely unfair, seeing as universities have a very skewed idea of what a parent should be paying,” said Hernandez. “Mine couldn’t afford to help at all, it just meant I had to take out more loans.”
When Pegley looks back at her choice to come to UT, she doesn’t feel that the College Scorecard would have changed her decision.
“UT was my first choice based on size, proximity to home, and teaching staff. I was lucky enough that money wasn’t as big an issue as it is for a lot of students,” said Pegley. “Regardless of how many other students graduate [on the scorecard], there was no question that I was going to graduate no matter what school I went to, so that wasn’t really a factor.Like they say, when the going gets tough, the tough keep going.”
To see the College Scorecard and to find out more information, visit collegescorecard.ed.gov.
Krista Byrd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org