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Some Maine Colleges Criticize President Obama's Proposed College Scorecard
02/14/2013   Reported By: Jay Field

The federal government's new interactive college scorecard, unveiled by President Obama in the State of the Union, gives students an easy way to look up schools by affordability and value, along with other criteria. But the site, in its current incarnation, is drawing criticism from some local colleges.

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Until this week, JoAnne Dowd said there hasn't been one single place students can go to get answers to most of their questions about different colleges and universities. Dowd handles college counseling in her job as aspirations coordinator at Lewiston High School.

"The Center for Educational Statistics has had a lot of this information on it, but you really have to dig around and know what you're looking for to find it" said Dowd. "This is definitely the most straightforward, up front information I've seen."

The new "College Scorecard," on the White House website, lets people search for institutions by size, location, academic major, degrees offered and other characteristics, all at once. Users click on a university on their list, say UMaine in Orono and up pop a series of boxes. They show how much it costs, per year, in tuition, what percentage of students graduate, how much money the average student borrows to attend and what percentage default on their loans.

"It gives a level of transparency to what the real cost of college is, a good comparison," said Johnny Jung.

Jung is Vice President for Enrollment Management at UMaine-Orono, he said comparisons are critical, at a time when students are borrowing greater and greater sums of money to pay for college. said the scorecard will be even more valuable when it includes information about the kinds of jobs a school's graduates get and the wages they earn. The government is promising to add that data to the site. Jung said he hopes the site will also eventually include other measures of student achievement and success, besides the basic graduation rate.

"An institution which takes a lot of non-traditional students," Jung said. "A graduation rate is not a good reflection of successful outcomes that come out of it."

Dowd, the Lewiston High college counselor, said the government also needs to update the financial data on the site, which is three or four years old.

"Which I think it problematic because the cost of college has gone up enormously in the past three to four years," Dowd said. But, Dowd notes, while costs have risen, financial aid packages offered by colleges have gone down.

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