A new government website is helping Americans make more educated decisions about where they go to college. And unlike HealthCare.gov, the makers of College Scorecard have published their comprehensive, updated data about colleges in a way that lets other websites use it at launch.
Two years ago, President Barack Obama announced an ambitious plan to create a federal ranking of colleges. But the end result, College Scorecard, doesn't do that. Instead, it offers its rich data to other sites, which can then rate schools based on things like annual costs, graduation rates and salaries after graduation.
That means a student (or a student's parents) won't have to visit Uncle Sam's college scorecard or database of over 7,000 schools over the past 18 years. Instead, they can go to other websites and apps that have incorporated the data, just as Yelp integrated government data about nursing homes, hospitals and dialysis centers into its listings.
For instance, if you visit ScholarMatch, StartClass or College Abacus to search for schools and compare them, the new data is baked in. If you go to PayScale, new data from the Internal Revenue Service offers additional insight into post-graduation earnings for various student groups. If you go on InsideTrack, the coaches and consultants there are now using this data to provide assistance.
ProPublica, the nonprofit journalism outlet, has not only used this new data to report on colleges flush with cash that are saddling poor students with debt -- it's also created "Debt by Degrees," an online tool that enables visitors to see how much federal loan debt students from low-income families accumulate at different colleges.
College Scorecard isn't perfect, but the public should be proud of the work of teams from the Department of Education, the Treasury, the White House Domestic Policy Council, the Council of Economic Advisors, the Office of Management and Budget, the General Services Administration’s 18F and the U.S. Digital Service.
These teams didn't just build a mobile-friendly website focused on the needs of the population they were serving, and they didn't just release the open data behind the website. Instead, they worked with the software developers, data journalists and startups behind the web services that would be natural consumers of the data. Then, the teams released the information in a way that both a government website and a third-party one could use it through an open application programming interface, which can be updated with new data as it becomes available.
At a time when federal student loans are looking more like subprime mortgages, that's good news.
"When consumers have more access to information, it means they can make better financial decisions for themselves and their families," wrote Lisa Gelobter, the chief digital service officer at the Department of Education, in a post on the WhiteHouse.gov blog.
"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."