New Report Proposes Revised College Scorecard to Address Needs of Low-Income and First-Generation Students of Color

Thursday, September 4, 2014
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A new report finds the Obama Administration’s College Scorecard under-values Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other institutions serving underrepresented students 

Philadelphia, PA, September 4, 2014 — A report issued today by Penn Graduate School of Education’s Center for Minority Serving Institutions finds that current metrics used by President Obama’s Plan to Make College Affordable are unable to illustrate the critical role of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in educating traditionally underrepresented students. The report, Ranking and Rewarding Access: An Alternative College Scorecardconsiders how HBCUs fare on two aspects of the Obama plan: the online College Scorecard and the proposed college ratings system. Identifying shortcomings in both evaluation mechanisms, the report authors, Penn GSE master’s students, recommend specific changes that would convey the strengths of HBCUs and other institutions that serve underrepresented, first-generation, and/or low-income students.

By making information about college readily accessible to the public using transparent and easily comparable metrics—including average college costs, graduation rates, loan default rates, and median borrowing rates—the Obama Administration aims to help students and their families make more-informed decisions about which college to attend. But in its current form, the report says, the White House Plan inadvertently punishes institutions that serve students who often need the most support by oversimplifying the measures. For example:

The Scorecard does not account for nontraditional student pathways to success: HBCUs serve a number of part-time students and students who may not be consistently enrolled throughout their college career. In addition, a large number of students transfer into and out of HBCUs. But the Scorecard graduation rate metric does not accommodate this flexibility, meaning that a large number of the students educated by HBCUs are not properly accounted for. Graduation rates that fail to fully capture all student data can negatively affect the perception of the institution by prospective students.

The Scorecard does not differentiate performance based on student characteristics: For example, Black men represent only 12% of the total male enrollment in higher education and have a graduation rate among the lowest of all racial and ethnic groups. At many HBCUs, however, Black men make up a significant portion of the student population. The Scorecard provides no mechanisms that reflect the outsized role that HBCUs play in providing access to higher education for this underserved population.

Heather Collins,  co-author of the report and assistant director of the Center for Minority Serving Institutions, says “An objective, impartial tool for comparison during the college search for prospective students is important. Adapting metrics to individual students is a more appropriate method of comparison than using average rates for an entire institution.”

Among the recommendations suggested by Collins and co-authors Shawn M. Jenkins and Nika Strzelecka, are:

Align metrics with student priorities: The metrics used by the College Scorecard do not necessarily align with the factors cited by HBCU freshmen as among the most important. For example, while the College Scorecard emphasizes graduation rates, HBCU students report that financial assistance, the cost of attending college, and getting good jobs are more important factors influencing college choice.

Create customizable features: College isn’t one size fits all—different institutions are better equipped to serve different students’ needs. Evaluation mechanisms should reflect this diversity by producing personalized information based on specific student characteristics. For example, personalized graduation rates for low-income students and Black men may indicate that HBCUs are a better value than other institutions that lack established, well-integrated support systems for these students.

Develop a rating system that considers preparation: Customized metrics can be used to reward institutions that graduate underrepresented students. By offering larger amounts of performance-based funding to institutions that enroll and graduate large populations of traditionally underserved students, institutions will be incentivized to focus on developing support services to enroll, retain, and graduate these students. This strategy avoids penalizing HBCUs and other institutions that educate these students.

Marybeth Gasman, director of the Center for Minority Serving Institutions and a member of the report’s research team, says that “while President Obama’s plan is well intentioned, facets of it offer 20th-century solutions to 21st-century problems. Today’s college-going population is far more diverse than in the past. We need evaluation mechanisms that embrace that diversity and that recognize the unique needs of low-income, first-generation, and historically underrepresented students. America’s future prosperity depends on these students’ success.”

To download the report, please visit

About the Center for Minority Serving Institutions

Located at the University of Pennsylvania and under the direction of Professor Marybeth Gasman, the Center for Minority Serving Institutions’ goals are to elevate the educational contributions of MSIs, ensuring their participation in national conversations; increase rigorous scholarship on MSIs; connect MSI academic and administrative leadership to leading reform initiatives in the United States; inform administrative, instructional and philanthropic practices at MSIs; advance effective policies that have a positive impact on strengthening MSIs, the development and support of their students and faculty, and the quality of the elementary and secondary schools within their communities; bring together MSIs around their common interests, strengths, and challenges to increase efficiency and optimize resources; and enhance the efforts of MSIs to close educational achievement gaps and assessment performance of disadvantaged communities. For further information about the Center for Minority Serving Institutions, please visit

About Penn GSE

Penn GSE is one of the nation’s premier research education schools. No other education school enjoys a university environment as supportive of practical knowledge building as the Ivy League’s University of Pennsylvania. The School is notably entrepreneurial, launching innovative degree programs for practicing professionals and unique partnerships with local educators, and the first-ever business plan competition devoted exclusively to educational products and programs. For further information about Penn GSE, please visit

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