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Reception mixed for college calculator website

Higher-ed experts have mixed reactions to the Obama administration’s new College Scorecard.

An online government-run calculator designed to help families understand the complexities of college costs could be helpful, though some information might be misleading, experts say.

The site, whitehouse.gov/scorecard, calculates five criteria for every college: annual price after grant aid, six-year graduation rates, loan default rates, median borrowing, and post-graduate employment — a section yet to be completed. It debuted last week under the cloud of student debt surpassing $1 trillion last year.

The web tool has met with mixed reviews from higher-education officials.

Lauren Asher, president of the Institute for College Access & Success, a nonprofit organization with offices in Washington, D.C., and Oakland, Calif., that provides an annual state breakdown on student debt, said it “has the potential to be a game-changer.”

“Overall, the data provided on the scorecard are what students and families need to better understand their college options,” Asher said. But she cautioned that data on default rates and median borrowing can be misleading without context, such as the percentage of students who borrowed money.

Rachel Fishman, a higher-education policy analyst for the nonpartisan, Washington, D.C.-based New America Foundation, said the scorecard’s plan to aggregate post-graduate employment data by tapping federal databases rather than accepting self-reports from schools is a first and could prove valuable.

(Next page: Some concerns as well)

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