Yet More Information

The US seems to be following the UK’s lead

I’ve previously written about the excess of information available for prospective students in UK HE and the fact that it really isn’t a substitute for proper advice and guidance. Now The Chronicle of Higher Education has a story on plans for extra information to be provided in the US and why it may not make much difference to students’ choice of institution:

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Going to college generally pays off. But not all colleges are the same, and not all students end up at places where they’re likely to fare well.

Dropping out or overborrowing—or both—are widely recognized problems. To try to prevent them, the federal government has unveiled a bunch of new tools to give prospective students more information. College Navigator offers a trove of searchable data. The College Scorecard features comparative performance measures. The Shopping Sheet is a standardized financial-aid award format.

In August, President Obama announced plans to develop a college-ratings system. Yes, more consumer information. But it could go further, if Congress, as the administration hopes, ties the ratings to financial aid.

The plan has proved unpopular with college leaders, who seem more comfortable with information itself, sans value judgment. As one president wrote in The New York Times, “The administration should make many types of data easily available and let people rate schools for themselves.”

Several existing tools, the ratings plan, and the do-it-yourself counterproposal all boil down to disclosure. But is more consumer information enough to steer students toward better choices?

The context is a little different here though. It’s seen by some as a something of a cheap policy option and perhaps less burdensome than other forms of regulation. And as the piece says it is perhaps easier to tell people about the shortcomings of institutions than it is to fix the problems. However, the overall conclusion is, rightly, that what is really needed is not another website or additional data but more and better guidance for prospective students.

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