By Cathy Spaulding
Phoenix Staff Writer
President Barack Obama touts the federal government’s new “College Scorecard” as a way parents and students can compare colleges.
However, area college officials warn against relying only on the Scorecard and advise people to check several sources.
The Scorecard, part of the College Affordability and Transparency Center’s website, is an interactive list of public and private colleges. It includes five pieces of information about each: costs, graduation rate, loan default rate, amount an average student might need to borrow and employment prospects. The employment category is not functioning.
“You just can’t rely on one source,” said Connors State College President Tim Faltyn, discussing the data found on the site. “This is brand new, and what I’m picking up is that not everyone seems to be on the same page” about the data, he said.
Obama announced the Scorecard in his 2013 State of the Union address, promising it as a place to compare schools on a criteria of “where you can get the most bang for your educational buck.”
However, a study of college costs listed on the Scorecard differs from how college costs are reported on other sources, such as the Counselor’s Resource Book issued by the Oklahoma Regents for Higher Education.
For example, the scorecard shows the average net cost of attending Connors to be $10,260 a year, using 2009 figures.
It also showed the average net cost of attending Northeastern State University as $6,048 a year and Carl Albert State College as $2,803 a year in 2009.
A Connors official, Lyndsay R. Sullivan, said the numbers for Connors are accurate. Sullivan, the school’s director of college and community relations, said the Scorecard uses information from the U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Post-secondary Education Data System, which is self-reported by each institution. She said the Scorecard’s figures for Connors includes room and board fees and meal fees.
Faltyn noted: “We have 1,500 students who don’t live on campus. The costs would be less.”
The Counselor’s Resource Book’s listing for Connors showed a $2,104 tuition, $8 per credit hour academic service fees, $892 for mandatory fees, $800 for books and supplies and $6,979 for room, board and meals.
The Counselor Resource Book’s listing for Carl Albert State College shows a tuition of $2,664, plus $900 in mandatory fees, $3,300 for room and board and $1,000 for books and supplies.
Dr. Robert Brown, Bacone’s dean of faculty and executive vice president, questioned the fairness of comparing Bacone with Connors State College, the University of Oklahoma or Harvard University.
“When you compare everything using the same criteria, make sure you compare apples to apples,” Brown said.
It would be more accurate to compare Bacone with other small private or independent colleges such as Oklahoma Baptist University or Southern Nazarene University, he said.
Brown also questioned the way the scorecard determined graduation rate. The scorecard’s data was based on undergraduate students who enrolled full time and had never enrolled in college before.
“We have always disagreed with how the Department of Education collects graduation rate data,” Brown said. “If a student transfers from Bacone and goes to OU, we don’t get to count that student and neither does OU. It really narrows the statistic. We know nationally that at least half, if not a majority of students transfer from one college to another. In our graduating class, at least half have transferred from other schools.”
Jerrett Phillips, NSU’s interim executive director of enrollment management, said the Scorecard had accurate figures for NSU, “but they do not tell the whole story.”
The Scorecard’s NSU listing shows tuition, fees, room and board, and books, “less scholarships and grants such as Pell and OTAG (Oklahoma Tuition Aid Grant) which do not have to be paid back,” he said.
Phillips called the Scorecard a good idea “in theory.”
“But its limited focus does not tell the reader about the history, culture and academic rigor of a university,” he said. He suggested that prospective students review a school’s website, visit the campus, check national and state data and talk to students.
“If a prospective student’s family does not conduct full research on college options and only use this tool, they could make poor decisions focusing on the cost of the college and not on the value of an institution,” he said.
Reach Cathy Spaulding at (918) 684-2928 or email@example.com.
College Scorecard’s cost estimates
• Bacone College: $15,601 a year.
• Connors State College: $10,260 a year.
• Northeastern State University: $6,048 a year.
• Oklahoma Baptist University: $12,843.
• Northeastern Oklahoma A&M: $5,178 a year.
• Southwestern Oklahoma State University: $9,244 a year.
• Southern Nazarene University: $1,8,284 a year.
• Oklahoma Wesleyan University: $17,520 a year.
• Murray State College: $7,954 a year.
• Carl Albert State College: $2,803 a year.
• East Central University: $7,221 a year.
• University of Central Oklahoma: $11,783 a year.
Source: College Affordability and Transparency Center.