On campus beat: College scorecard reveals real costs

  • Article by: Jenna Ross
  • Star Tribune
  • February 13, 2013 - 6:10 PM

In his State of the Union speech, President Obama promised parents and students a new tool "to compare schools based on a simple criteria -- where you can get the most bang for your educational buck."

The so-called "college scorecard" debuted Wednesday. It features net price, or the price a student pays after subtracting grants and scholarships. It then adds key factors such as graduation rates.

"It's a big step forward because it puts together information that can be very hard to find," said Lauren Asher, president of the nonprofit Institute for College Access and Success.

The website,, lets you compare colleges and universities in Minnesota, and weigh their costs against your chances of getting a degree within six years.

For example, Macalester College's average net price of $22,376 a year -- the total cost of attendance, which includes room and board, minus financial aid a student won't have to pay back -- compares to $16,019 at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities and $11,609 at Bemidji State University. The site links to each school's net price calculator, so you can get a more personalized guess.

For many families, figuring out what they might pay is a puzzle made more complicated by confusing sticker prices and a shortage of high school counselors, Asher said.

The White House first floated a draft of the scorecard last year, to mixed reviews. One report, by the Center for American Progress, found that it baffled many students.

This one includes "marked improvements," according to Asher's institute. But the organization is pushing for even more fixes. Loan default rates need more context, it says. Debt is measured after a student enters repayment, so students who give up after a year are included. "This makes colleges with high drop-out rates look like a good deal," the institute notes in a blog post.

But overall, Asher said, it's "miles ahead of where we've been before."

Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168

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