Obama to rank colleges. So can you, with no wait. Here's where to look.
President Obama aims to have a new federal database, by 2015, that ranks colleges for the value they provide to students. But plenty of online sites that aim to do the same are up and running now.
President Obama kicked off his college-affordability bus tour in Buffalo, N.Y., Thursday by announcing that by the fall of 2015, the government would develop a new ratings system to compare the value of colleges. It would be based on factors such as affordability, graduation rates, and graduates’ earnings, Mr. Obama said, “so students and taxpayers get a bigger bang for their buck.”Skip to next paragraph
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For students currently in the throes of the college search, however, some tools are already out there to help do just that – and more.
College affordability has been a thorny problem for so long now that a plethora of efforts are under way – by new websites, networking sites such as LinkedIn, and college associations -- to make higher education data more accessible and to guide efforts by students and parents to make sense of it all.
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Traditionally, “rankings systems ignored the costs of education,” says Bill Phelan, CEO of College Factual, a new site that offers value rankings and enables users to tailor their comparisons by weighting everything from average net price to student-faculty ratios, based on how important each factor is to them.
College Factual will even generate a tailored series of key questions parents or students should ask a college when comparing options. “We’re trying to be a force of change by empowering consumers to ask tough questions,” Mr. Phelan says.
People often look at student-faculty ratios, for instance, but they may not have thought to ask how many of the faculty are full-time and focused on teaching. College Factual provides such comparison points.
Parents have been spending a lot of time on the portion of the site that allows exploration of college majors – helping to identify which colleges graduate large numbers of students within a given area of interest, for instance, or finding “clusters of excellence” within a college, Phelan says.
That’s because choosing a college is just one part of forging an affordable path to a degree. When students change majors, it can cost them an additional year or more of school.
College Factual offers free comprehensive data comparisons, and will eventually expand from four-year colleges to two-year schools and graduate schools, as well. But the for-profit company will also begin offering a $49-a-year option with additional tools to help students determine their own preferences and temperament and identify schools and majors that might be a good fit. It's a way to “find your future faster for less than the price of a tank of gas,” Phelan says.
The professional networking site LinkedIn.com has decided it can offer something unique to prospective college students, as well: access to data about – and connections with -- thousands of global alumni who can help students envision a path to college and various careers they, perhaps, had never considered.
Earlier this month it launched University Pages, with tools making it easy to see how many alumni work in a given field or to search for alumni by city or company. The pages offer a “notable alumni” section, a place for the university to highlight aspects of campus life, a list of similar universities around the world, and a place to post questions and get answers from officials or alumni.
In mid-September, the minimum age for using LinkedIn in the United States will drop from 18 to 14, so that high school students can use the tools, which will also include key data points on factors such as cost.
“Today’s students are tomorrow’s professionals … and we want them to make more informed decisions about where they go to school, because it’s a huge investment,” says Crystal Braswell, spokeswoman for LinkedIn in Mountain View, Calif.