4 Steps to Understanding and Comparing Financial Aid Offers

Students sitting on bench.

When I was in my last semester of high school, I checked my family’s mailbox just as much as I checked Snapchat and Instagram combined. It was the season of admissions decisions, and I was getting letters from all the colleges I’d applied to.

But once I’d gotten into several schools, my attention shifted to my e-mail inbox. I was waiting on information that was just as critical: my financial aid offer from each college. I knew that for me, the amount of financial aid I got from a school mattered just as much as the general admissions decision. I’d fallen in love with each of the schools I’d visited, and I knew I’d be happy anywhere. Basically, my choice was going to come down to the money.

Analyzing different aid packages can seem like way too much math for the end of your senior year—at least it did to me—but it’s important stuff. Check out my four steps to make this analysis simpler.


What to do once you get an aid offer

1. Make sure you know what you’re looking at.

The financial aid offer (sometimes called an award letter) typically comes in an e-mail from the college’s financial aid office. The offer includes the types and amounts of financial aid you’re eligible to receive from federal, state, private, and school sources. Be sure you understand what each type of aid is and whether it needs to be paid back. For example, when I got into UNC-Chapel Hill, my aid offer was a mix of scholarships, which I didn’t need to pay back, and private loans, which I did. My offer from Duke (booooo) had mainly the same stuff with some grant money mixed in.

Click to download PDF.

Click to download PDF.

Lucky for you, hundreds of colleges nationwide have signed on to present financial aid offers in a standardized format known as the Shopping Sheet. The Shopping Sheet is a standardized award letter template that makes it easy to compare financial aid offers from different schools. In addition to providing personalized information on financial aid and net costs, the Shopping Sheet also provides general information on the college, like graduation rate and loan default rate.

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Back-to-school bus stops for college tour at University of Louisville

Bus in front of Jeffersontown High School

Secretary Duncan stopped to pick up students at Jeffersontown High School before heading to the University of Louisville for a college tour and discussion.

Secretary Arne Duncan told more than a dozen high school seniors from Louisville, Kentucky, on Thursday that the challenges they face in attending college will also be their badge of strength.

Secretary Duncan and Under Secretary Ted Mitchell talked with students in a round table at the University of Louisville during a stop on the Ready for Success bus tour aimed at helping students think about navigating the college experience. Many will be the first in their families to attend college, or to do so in this country, and they spoke of a variety of challenges – particularly, that while their parents want to support their college-going goals, they don’t know firsthand how to help.

A student whose parents immigrated from Tanzania spoke of the language barrier they face: “English is not their first language. Or their second. Or their third.”

Secretary Duncan told them that their role as pioneers should give them pride, and should be a source of strength for them – and, together with Under Secretary Mitchell, laid out tools that can help them, including the new College Scorecard.

All of the high school seniors were from nearby Jefferson County Public Schools – and, while they were all interested in attending college, some had fears about getting there. Unfortunately, fear prevents far too many academically-qualified young people from reaching their full potential beyond high school. More than half of high-achieving students from low-income families – 53 percent – never apply to schools with median SAT and ACT scores similar to their own. In fact, most students apply to just one, unselective school.

Secretary Duncan on a college tourAlongside University of Louisville Executive Director of Admissions, Jenny Sawyer, and Department of Education Under Secretary Mitchell, Secretary Duncan answered questions from high school seniors about the importance of higher education.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer joined the conversation, and Secretary Duncan praised his 55,000 Degrees initiative, which aims to help the city transition from manufacturing to innovation by increasing the number of college graduates in the city. He urged students to follow the guidance of Muhammad Ali, combining vision and effort: “Think big, and do the road work.”

Duncan urged students to remember that graduating, not merely  going to college, is the goal, and spoke of his own experiences being homesick when he went away to college at Harvard.

But the most electric moment came when Sawyer called out one of the students in the discussion and announced that he had been admitted to the University of Louisville.

Following the conversation, the Secretary joined the students on a campus tour, where dialogue continued.

All Americans – regardless of their zip code – deserve access to high-quality education that makes the journey to the middle class possible. The Obama Administration has taken several steps toward that goal, including simplifying the FAFSA, raising the maximum Pell Grant, introducing new tools and resources, and more.

Under the Hood: Building a New College Scorecard with Students

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.


Summary: How the U.S. Digital Service worked with students, families, schools, developers and teams across the federal government to rebuild the new College Scorecard tool.


My niece is a smart kid.  I’m biased, but I swear she is.  And just as I started working on the College Scorecard project as the U.S. Digital Service’s new Chief Digital Service Officer at the Department of Education, I got a call from her – she was trying to decide where to go to school. As we were building this tool, wading through this data, and working with all the top college choice tools already in the market, I was also helping her navigate her college choice process. Where should she go? What was the best value? What is value when it comes to schools? This may be the single most important investment of her life, and even she was struggling to find clear, reliable data on critical questions.

Today, the Department of Education is proud to announce new steps to help students, parents and advisers make better college choices, including:

  1. A new College Scorecard redesigned with direct input from students, families, and their advisers to provide the clearest, most accessible, and reliable national data on college cost, graduation, debt, and post-college earnings. This new College Scorecard can empower Americans to rate colleges based on what matters most to them; to highlight colleges that are serving students of all backgrounds well; and to focus on making a quality, affordable education within reach.
  2. New, comprehensive and updated data on higher education institutions. For the first time, the public can access the most reliable and comprehensive data on students’ outcomes at specific colleges, including former students’ earnings, graduates’ student debt, and borrowers’ repayment rates. These data are also available for various sub-groups, like first generation and Pell students. Because these data will be published through an open application programming interface (API), researchers, policymakers, and members of the public can customize their own analysis of college performance more quickly and easily.
  3. Customized tools for students, with 11 organizations already using these data to launch new tools. Today, ScholarMatch, StartClass and College Abacus, three college search resources, are using this new, unique data that help students search for, compare, and develop a list of colleges based on the outcomes data that the Department is making available to the public for the first time. PayScale, which offers consumers a large salary database, will use the new data to analyze various colleges’ return-on-investment for different student groups while InsideTrack, which is a team of coaches and consultants working to improve student outcomes, will use the data to develop and implement effective student-centered initiatives. ProPublica, a non-profit investigative journalism newsroom, has built a tool with the open data to help consumers make more informed decisions.

This work was truly collaborative team effort, with teams from the Departments of Education and of the Treasury, White House Domestic Policy Council, Council of Economic Advisors, and Office of Management and Budget, the General Services Administration’s 18F and the U.S. Digital Service.

Here’s how we did it:

Build with, not for, users.

We knew what we needed to do – make people’s lives better by providing them the tools and information to make more informed choices and get the best bang for buck college choice. And we thought – exactly how do people make choices when deciding on college?

So we went out and asked them..

Following our practice of focusing on user needs, the College Scorecard team first spent time engaging directly with users at every single step in the project. Some of our favorite conversations were when we talked to high school students in Washington, D.C.’s Anacostia neighborhood and their excellent guidance counselor who told us how he “hacks” the process to make sure every one of his students gets an acceptance letter from a college, and feels that rush of possibility.

We met with 4-H kids from across the country who were frustrated by inaccurate data on the college search tools they use to find the best agricultural programs today. We listened to a mom from Maryland explain that she shopped for schools based on the lowest annual actual cost to become a medical technician – her dream. We even called a young woman who works as a college advisor in the Bronx, who had written a letter to the President with her ideas of how to make higher education data and tools work even better for her students. We also visited the newsrooms of data journalists to understand how they used higher education open data to report on how well schools were serving students.

We build on the hard work of the Department of Education; previously, they met with thousands of stakeholders from the higher education community to learn about their concerns and ideas and hopes for how we could help students and families make a more informed decision.

Be agile.

Based on this research, we made the cheapest, fastest prototype of the College Scorecard possible, based on what we heard. We knew it needed to be mobile-first, simple, and easy to customize. That prototype ended up being a homemade, cardboard iPhone with slips of paper with wireframes of what the tool could look like. It probably cost less than a cup of coffee to produce.

Scorecard Demo

College Scorecard

We also went to work with the federal government’s data from over 7,000 schools, going back 18 years, putting it into an open API (Application Programming Interface) that fuels the College Scorecard website. We wanted to make the data as usable by software developers and data scientists. The API allows anyone to create tools and insights that will help prospective college students make these important decisions.

We worked with a group of software developers and data scientists to be beta users of the data – to make sure it worked well and was clear. In addition to the groups I mentioned above, whose work is live today, we’re also excited to see the tools and enhancements that Niche, College Greenlight, Noodle, Tractus Insight (HelloCollege) and I’m First! are working on – and are looking forward to what many others will be able to do with the data that’s now open and available.

What’s in the data?

With nearly 2,000 data points for over 7,000 schools going back 18 years, there’s a lot of information in the College Scorecard dataset. The dataset includes information from the Department of the Treasury on student loan repayment rates, and the IRS on post-college income. When we can combine new data from Departments of Education and of the Treasury with data that colleges already report on graduation rates, cost, and other descriptions about their school, the College Scorecard allows the public to distinguish colleges based on the outcomes of their students.

Some of the information students, their parents or guardians, and advisors will be able to see includes:

  • Employment outcomes: The College Scorecard contains the first-ever comprehensive and reliable data on post-college earnings for students who attended all types of undergraduate institutions, based upon tax records. While increased earnings are only one of many reasons to go to college, many students consider their future career prospects when making an investment in their education. Specifically, the new Scorecard includes: (1) the proportion of former students earning over $25,000, which is the average earnings of high school graduates, six years after enrolling and (2) the median earnings of students 10 years after they enroll in college.
  • Student-level outcomes data: The College Scorecard publishes data from the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS), which ED has used to manage and track grants and loans since the 1990s. The data can be used to produce a variety of new institutional performance metrics including (1) median cumulative loan debt, (2) repayment rate, and (3) completion and transfer rates, all by various student sub-groups.

The demographic data includes things you might expect, like ethnicity or gender, as well as how many students are the first in their family to attend college, students’ family income, and the rates at which students are taking out student loans or grants. We should point out that the Department of Education ensured the data protects the privacy of all students by aggregating up to the institution level and only reporting information for schools with enough students. Rest assured that no one can distinguish any individuals from the data. With these data, we can better understand how well schools do for students.

And this is just the beginning. By giving developers access to an API, even more customized tools will be created, providing students more options than ever before to find the right school for them.

What this means for the marketplace

As the President said in his weekly address,

“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.” – President Barack Obama, Weekly Address, September 12, 2015

When consumers have more access to information, it means they can make better financial decisions for themselves and their families. This is a huge win for students, families, and the marketplace — open data like this ensures that both colleges and students are operating in a more fair, competitive, and transparent environment.

A college degree is the best investment students can make in their future, and the public now has more data than ever to make one of the most important decisions students face in their lifetimes.

Lisa Gelobter is the Chief U.S. Digital Service Officer at the U.S. Department of Education.


Department Launches College Affordability and Value Outreach Initiative Today – Starting with Student Advocates

President Obama

President Obama discusses his plan to make college more affordable during a speech at Henninger High School, in Syracuse, N.Y. Official White House photo.

We know a college degree is the best investment students can make in their future. But despite historic investments and reforms, attending college has never been more expensive. Too many young adults are burdened with debt as they seek to launch a career, start a family, buy a home or save for retirement – and too many students are afraid to pursue higher education because they think it’s too expensive.

The federal government provides over $150 billion each year to support students as they pursue postsecondary education – from public and private universities to community colleges to technical schools and online programs. Although choosing a college is one of the most important decisions that students face, clear and useful information about the cost and quality of different colleges is often hard to find.

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Road to College: Summer Tips for Rising Seniors

college arne quoteYes, soon-to-be high school seniors- your time has come! As you bask in the excitement of the upcoming year, set aside time this summer to lay the groundwork for a smooth college process. Trust me, you will be thankful you did later!

With all the information available for seniors, it’s essential for students and their families to take advantage of the tools that can help best inform you on taking the right path for secondary education.

Here are tips & tools from ED to get a head start this summer:

Tip: Search for the type of college that will best suit you. Narrow down the program, size, type, location, and tuition cost of colleges, this will help you zero in on a concise list of institutions to apply to come fall.

  • College ScorecardIncludes information about a particular college’s cost, its graduation rates and the average amount its students borrow. It is designed to help you compare colleges and choose one that is well-suited to your individual needs.

Tip: Research the tuition and fees of the institutions that top your college list. This will help give you and your family a clearer view of the potential cost of each institution right from the start of the college process.

  • College Affordability and Transparency Center: ED has compiled lists of institutions based on the tuition and fees and net prices (the price of attendance after considering all grant and scholarship aid) charged to students.

Tip: It is never too early to look for scholarships! Some deadlines are as early as a year before college starts, so take time this summer to research and begin applying for scholarships.

  • Federal Student Aid: There are thousands of scholarships, from all kinds of organizations; Federal Student Aid provides tips and resources to help you find scholarships you may be eligible for.

Kelsey Donohue works in the Office of Communication and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.

Duncan to Grads: Follow Your Passion

Duncan at Morgan State

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan delivered this year’s commencement speech at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Md.

Summer is here and as recent grads take time to pause and reflect on their tenure in higher education, many may wonder what they will do with the rest of their lives and how they will use their degrees.

Follow your passion and help others. This was the common theme in Secretary Arne Duncan’s four commencement speeches this spring.

At the Georgetown Public Policy Institute, Morgan State University, the College of the Menominee Nation, and Hostos Community College, the Secretary lauded athletic titles to academic championships.  He highlighted those that were the first in their families to graduate from college and at Morgan State University, touted the mother-daughter duo who earned their bachelors’ degrees on the same day.

“I did learn two valuable lessons in thinking about the future from my teachers, my family, and my mentors,” Duncan said at Morgan State University.

First, I learned the importance of following your passion — that your ability to adapt and be creative, to skillfully manage the inevitable uncertainty that would come, would, in large measure, determine one’s success in a knowledge-based, global economy…. Second, I learned I should strive to lead a life of consequence — to try to demonstrate my respect and gratitude to all those who had helped me growing up by working to help others.”

The Secretary expressed hope that graduates would run for school board, become teachers or tutor students so that they could positively affect their communities through education, regardless of the career path they take. He told graduates at the College of Menominee Nation that they were “a gift to [their] people,” but that with that gift came responsibilities and obligations to give back to one’s community.

He echoed this same call for action during his speech at Hostos Community College when speaking about the school’s namesake, Eugenio Maria de Hostos.

“For de Hostos, education was not just about getting a degree, it was about what you did with your degree,” said Duncan.

Duncan mentioned in more than one speech how the Obama Administration is committed to preserving investments in federal student aid and will continue to empower students and families through tools such as the College Scorecard and the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet.

Other tools include programs such as Income Based Repayment and Pay As You Earn that can cap federal student loan payments at ten percent of a student’s income, and Public Service Loan Forgiveness which forgives student loan debt after working in the public sector.

Below are links to Secretary Arne Duncan’s commencement speeches this spring:

Robert Gomez is the higher education and youth liaison at the Department of Education and a graduate of the University of California, Irvine

Steps Forward to Improving Quality and Strengthening Accreditation

Every student who wants the opportunity deserves a high-quality postsecondary education. For what? For lifelong success, not only in his or her educational pursuits, but for long-term success in the workforce, in civic life and – ultimately – for the personal and professional rewards that come from living a life of accomplishment, contribution, and satisfaction! At the U.S. Department of Education, we are keenly focused on how to use the various federal levers for change and improvement at our disposal to encourage successful student outcomes and improved educational performance, institutional, state-level and national. As the president has said, we all share responsibility to provide educational opportunity and value. The accreditation community is an important partner in this work and plays a key role both in assuring a basic level of quality and in improving quality.univeristy photo

While the United States has some of the world’s best postsecondary institutions, we also have too many that are of poor quality, with track records that give their students little chance of attaining the postsecondary credentials and preparation that they intended to earn—and that are so vital in today’s society and economy.  The College Scorecard that we introduced earlier this year highlights the differences among different institutions related to net price, degree completion and student debt repayment all too starkly. Making performance transparent is a lever we are using to highlight success and fix the most pressing of our problems.

But these indicators are only indicative of a part of educational performance.  We also need to know whether students are successfully achieving the level of learning they need for lifelong success in work, civic participation, and life.  And we need to ensure that high-quality learning is affordable.

President Obama and Secretary Duncan are strongly committed to strengthening collaboration for results with the nation’s diverse accreditation stakeholders to clarify, simplify and improve accreditation processes, with a more targeted, rigorous focus on value and affordability. When President Obama announced his proposals for the FY2014 budget, he called on the accreditation community to work with the Administration to:

“…consider value, affordability, and student outcomes in making determinations about which colleges and universities receive access to federal student aid, either by incorporating measures of value and affordability into the existing accreditation system; or by establishing a new, alternative system of accreditation that would provide pathways for higher education models and colleges to receive federal student aid based on performance and results.”

Responding to recommendations of the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI), last week our Department announced its intention to strengthen and better focus the accrediting agency recognition process.  Eight regional and 47 national accrediting organizations seeking renewal of their recognition from the federal government will benefit from a streamlined review process, which will focus in more depth on about 25 of up to 93 criteria that are most relevant to assessing institutional quality and the quality of student learning. This will result in a better, more targeted process that is simpler and less burdensome for accrediting agencies, NACIQI and the federal government. It is our hope and expectation that these improvements will also enable the postsecondary institutions they accredit to focus additional time and effort on quality enhancement and value.

With the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act commencing next year, the Department is also eager to engage in broader conversations with the postsecondary education community and its stakeholders (e.g., students, families, businesses, non-profits, states, philanthropies, etc.) about proposals to improve the accreditation processes to increase quality—with particular attention to value and affordability.

If we define value as high quality at an affordable cost, how can we help to ensure that we achieve it?  We are looking to the accreditation community and stakeholders to help us understand and measure such concepts as “quality,” “affordability” and “value” in ways that honor and preserve the diversity of our postsecondary landscape, yet hold all of us accountable for learning and completion outcomes and their improvement. We need far more attention to qualitative and quantitative methods that can strengthen institutional quality and student learning outcomes.

This effort to strengthen the accreditation process is just one example of how the Department is working to improve quality, while also increasing access, affordability, and completion. We will also continue to address value by encouraging innovation, whether through new developments in competency-based education, new validation models that can demonstrate what students know and can do, new attention to the faculty role in high quality learning, and/or alternative accreditation systems designed to produce high quality student outcomes at an affordable price. Experimentation, innovation and reliable evidence must drive the effort to achieve better student outcomes, both in terms of completion and in terms of demonstrated achievement; thus the great need for more and better postsecondary R&D.

In the months ahead, we look forward to engaging in an ongoing and robust national dialogue with our partners and stakeholders about accreditation and other ways we can improve quality in America’s postsecondary education, with a far clearer understanding of, and focus on, value and affordability.

Martha J. Kanter is the Under Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education and David Soo is a Policy Advisor for the Office of the Under Secretary.

Finding the Right College For You – Tools & Resources from ED

If you are a high school senior who has yet to decide where you’re going to college this fall, you are most likely not alone. May 1st marks the National College Decision Day where the vast majority of U.S. colleges and universities require students to notify them of their decision to attend.

As you navigate the college decision process, the U.S. Department of Education provides tools for you and your family to make it easy to compare important information such as college costs, average student loan debt, and graduation rates across different institutions.

If you are a student or the parent of a college-bound teen struggling with this decision, here are a few tools that can help:

Federal Student Aid The College Scorecard

The College Scorecard includes essential information about a particular college’s cost, its graduation rates and the average amount its students borrow, all in an easy-to-read format. It is designed to help you compare colleges and choose one that is well-suited to your individual needs.

Net Price Calculator Center

Federal Student Aid

The Net Price Calculator Center provides an easy tool to explore the net price of any given college- that is, the price after subtracting the scholarships and grants you are likely to receive. Then, you can easily compare estimated net prices across the institutions that you are considering.

Financial Aid Shopping Sheet

Many colleges and universities have adapted a Shopping Sheet which will be included in your financial aid package. The Shopping Sheet provides personalized information on financial aid and net costs as well as general information on institutional outcomes- all in a standardized format. This tool provides an easy way to make clear comparisons among financial aid offers that you may receive.

FSA2

College Navigator

College Navigator is an interactive website that allows you to explore and compare features of different institutions, including programs and majors, admissions considerations, campus crime statistics and more.

For additional tips visit Federal Student Aid’s Choosing a School resources and follow @USEDGOV & @FAFSA on Twitter.

Now that you have the resources and the tools to pick the right college, you can let out a sigh of relief and show your campus pride with that coveted university sweatshirt. Congratulations!

Kelsey Donohue is a senior at Marist College (N.Y.), and an intern in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach

Focus on Financial Empowerment This Month

President Obama has proclaimed April to be Financial Capability Month, and what better time to focus on the range of tools available to students and their families to make smart financial decisions around postsecondary education?

Piggy Bank ImageIn his proclamation, President Obama noted the new tools released by the Department of Education that give students and families clear, transparent information on college costs so they can make good choices when they invest in higher education. One of these tools—the College Scorecard—is part of President Obama’s continued efforts to hold colleges accountable for cost, value and quality. The Scorecard highlights key indicators about the cost and value of institutions across the country, helping students choose a school that is well-suited to meet their needs, is priced affordably, and is consistent with their educational and career goals.

The Obama administration has also simplified the FAFSA, the free application for federal student aid, which is the first step in determining eligibility for federal grants and loans. In addition, ED is empowering high school counselors and local leaders through the FAFSA Completion Project to help ensure that students get all of the aid for which they qualify by giving them a resource to monitor FAFSA completion rates of their students.

Furthermore, ED recently released a suite of new tools to help students and families make informed and wise decisions around college financial decisions.  The Financial Aid Shopping Sheet is an individualized financial aid award letter in a standardized format that helps students understand their costs and compare financial aid packages from different institutions so they can make smart decisions on investing in higher education. ED has also improved the financial education tools available to students, and within the last year we have revamped entrance and exit loan counseling and introduced a financial education tool for students in college.

President Obama has set a goal that the United States will once again lead the world in college completion. We will reach this goal only if we ensure that all students have the opportunity to access and complete postsecondary education—and are equipped to make the important financial decisions that will lead to a strong middle class. The US Department of Education stands committed to providing ladders of opportunity to make this a reality for all students, starting with sound financial knowledge and tools.

Martha Kanter is the Under Secretary of Education

New Tools for Student Loan Borrowers

Federal Student Aid image

Spring is here, college finals are looming, commencement speakers are being announced, and before long, a new group of college graduates will need to start thinking about paying back their student loans. Earlier this week, the Department of Education announced new tools that will help recent college grads better understand their loan debt and stay on track in repayment.

These two new features include a Complete Counseling Web page and a new Repayment Estimator that lets the borrower easily compare monthly payment options under the seven repayment plans available. Both tools are part of the Obama Administration’s ongoing effort to help students and families make informed and sound financial decisions throughout each step as they pursue their higher education goals.

During his State of the Union address in February, President Obama unveiled the new College Scorecard to help empower students and families with more transparent information about college costs and outcomes. The Scorecard provides clear, concise information on cost, graduation rates, loan default rates and the amount families borrowed for every degree-granting institution in the country. The College Scorecard, along with the resources from Federal Student Aid, will help students take the right steps, financially and academically, to achieve their college degree.

As many know, managing loans can often be confusing and overwhelming for college students, and we want to ensure that graduates have access to tools that will help them successfully navigate this process. We encourage federal student loan borrowers to log in at StudentLoans.gov to take advantage of these new resources today!


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Kelsey Donohue is a senior at Marist College (N.Y.), and an intern in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach

Obama Administration Launches College Scorecard

“… My administration will release a new “College Scorecard” that parents and students can use to compare schools based on a simple criteria — where you can get the most bang for your educational buck.” – President Obama, 2013 State of the Union

Example of Scorecard

The interactive College Scorecard gives students and families five key pieces of data about a college: costs, graduation rate, loan default rate, average amount borrowed, and employment.

Too often, students and their families don’t have the right tools to help them sort through the information they need to decide which college or university is right for them. The search can be overwhelming, and the information from different colleges can be hard to compare.

That’s why, today, our Administration released a “College Scorecard” that empowers families to make smart investments in higher education. As the President said last night, we want to help families get the most bang for their educational buck.

The College Scorecard – as part of President Obama’s continued efforts to hold colleges accountable for cost, value and quality – highlights key indicators about the cost and value of institutions across the country to help students choose a school that is well-suited to meet their needs, priced affordably, and is consistent with their educational and career goals.

The tool is interactive, so students can choose among any number of options based on their individual needs – including location, size, campus setting, and degree and major programs.

Each Scorecard includes five key pieces of data about a college: costs, graduation rate, loan default rate, average amount borrowed, and employment. These data will be updated periodically, and the Department plans to publish information on average earnings in the coming year.

Get started by visiting whitehouse.gov/scorecard.

Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education

Read more about President Obama’s State of the Union address

In State of the Union, Obama Outlines Bold Education Proposals to Grow the Middle Class

President Obama Delivers the State of the Union

Education was one of the main themes in President Obama's State of the Union address. Official White House photo by Pete Souza.

In a State of the Union address focused on growing a strong middle class, President Obama outlined a series of bold proposals that will increase access to high-quality education. Among them were initiatives to make quality early education accessible to every child, to tame the spiraling cost of college, and redesign the country’s high schools to meet the needs of the real world. The President called for a new College Scorecard to show parents and students “where you can get the most bang for your educational buck.”

These proposals complemented other efforts to strengthen the middle class, including calls to raise the minimum wage and reform immigration. Education was one of the major themes of the President’s annual speech delivered to Congress and the country.

Educators and students were also well represented as guests to First Lady Michelle Obama. Here are the education excerpts from the speech:

Early Learning

Study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road.  But today, fewer than 3 in 10 four year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program.  Most middle-class parents can’t afford a few hundred bucks a week for private preschool.  And for poor kids who need help the most, this lack of access to preschool education can shadow them for the rest of their lives.

Tonight, I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America. Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on – by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime.

In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children, like Georgia or Oklahoma, studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, and form more stable families of their own.  So let’s do what works, and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind. Let’s give our kids that chance.

Building the Skills that Lead to High-Quality, High-Wage Jobs

Let’s also make sure that a high school diploma puts our kids on a path to a good job.  Right now, countries like Germany focus on graduating their high school students with the equivalent of a technical degree from one of our community colleges, so that they’re ready for a job.  At schools like P-Tech in Brooklyn, a collaboration between New York Public Schools, the City University of New York, and IBM, students will graduate with a high school diploma and an associate degree in computers or engineering.

In the President’s Plan for a Strong Middle Class & A Strong America, released in conjunction with the address, the President is calling on Congress to commit new resources to create a STEM Master Teacher Corps, enlisting 10,000 of America’s best science and math teachers to improve STEM education. The President continued by saying,

Four years ago, we started Race to the Top – a competition that convinced almost every state to develop smarter curricula and higher standards, for about 1 percent of what we spend on education each year.  Tonight, I’m announcing a new challenge to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy.

We’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math – the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill jobs right now and in the future.

Holding Colleges Accountable for Cost, Value and Quality

Now, even with better high schools, most young people will need some higher education. It’s a simple fact: the more education you have, the more likely you are to have a job and work your way into the middle class.  But today, skyrocketing costs price way too many young people out of a higher education, or saddle them with unsustainable debt.

Through tax credits, grants, and better loans, we have made college more affordable for millions of students and families over the last few years.  But taxpayers cannot continue to subsidize the soaring cost of higher education.  Colleges must do their part to keep costs down, and it’s our job to make sure they do.

Tonight, I ask Congress to change the Higher Education Act, so that affordability and value are included in determining which colleges receive certain types of federal aid.  And tomorrow, my Administration will release a new “College Scorecard” that parents and students can use to compare schools based on a simple criteria: where you can get the most bang for your educational buck.

Rebuilding our Schools

The President also proposed a “Fix-It-First” program that would focus on urgent infrastructure repairs, which included schools.

And to make sure taxpayers don’t shoulder the whole burden, I’m also proposing a Partnership to Rebuild America that attracts private capital to upgrade what our businesses need most: modern ports to move our goods; modern pipelines to withstand a storm; modern schools worthy of our children.

Read, watch and share your “Citizen Response” to the State of the Union address, and read the President’s Plan for a Strong Middle Class & a Strong America.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education