Congress, Google, and Others Strive to Help Students Make More Informed Decisions About What College to Attend

For the millions of Americans faced with the decision of where to earn a postsecondary degree, the process of researching and applying to colleges can be overwhelming — especially for those who are navigating this path alone.

Making the right decision about which higher education institution to attend is an increasingly high-stakes endeavor, particularly for low-income students who must take on the burden on student loan debt and who tend to enroll in colleges with low graduation rates, such as community colleges and for-profit institutions. To improve students’ chances of successfully completing a degree, many lawmakers are pushing for the aggregating and publishing of detailed information regarding which institutions produce the best outcomes in terms of graduation rates, employment rates, and improved socioeconomic status.

Currently, 35 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate are working on a bill called the Bipartisan College Transparency Act (CTA). It would grant the U.S. Department of Education permission to collect more comprehensive data on student outcomes, such as employment and income after graduation. This information could help prospective students navigate the process of transferring from community colleges to four-year institutions, compare different programs at a single institution, and attend more selective colleges that they may not have otherwise considered applying to. As it stands now, federal privacy law severely restricts the types of information the Education Department can collect about college students.

The private sector is also working to improve transparency regarding student outcomes at U.S. colleges and universities. On June 12, Google announced that its search engine would automatically display information about graduation rates and tuition costs in search results for schools. The company has since added more detailed information, such as the average cost of attendance after factoring in financial aid — something that may be especially helpful for low-income applicants. Google says its decision to add these features was in response to research showing that many high school students feel lost during the college application process.

Bloomberg Philanthropies, a nonprofit organization that funds a variety of public education initiatives, is also assisting prospective students in the college search process. It recently developed a free service called CollegePoint that offers high-achieving teenagers from low- and middle-income backgrounds the opportunity to work with virtual advisers to apply to colleges. Research shows that many of these students don’t attend high-ranking universities where they are more likely to succeed — a phenomenon often referred to as “undermatching.” CollegePoint’s advisers will focus on helping these young people learn about and apply to these top schools as well as for financial aid.

Should CTA pass, CollegePoint and Google may be able to further develop and improve upon the services and information they currently provide students. Congress is beginning its periodic review of higher education laws, meaning that legislators may be able to vote on the bill in the near future.