Kids & Money

Kids & Money: New federal college search tool has a trove of financial data

If you’ve ever spent a weekend poring over countless websites and guidebooks trying to find the best school for your would-be college student, you know the work can sometimes be time-consuming and overwhelming.

Enter the College Scorecard, an online tool released this month by the U.S. Department of Education. The scorecard — a revamped version of an earlier federal database — offers a free trove of data to help parents and their high school student make a more informed decision when selecting a college. That’s the goal, anyway. provides detailed information on thousands of colleges and universities. The data spotlights the average cost to attend a college, average accumulated debt at graduation, and students’ future earnings power, based on their academic degree.

You can drill down to look at average student body standardized test scores, graduation rates, and other information.

Looking for four-year schools in Kansas that offer education degrees? I counted 26 to compare. Interested in a two-year degree in the construction trades? You can choose from nearly 400 schools nationwide.

The scorecard also links users to education department resources on financial aid and how to apply for it, and G.I. Bill benefits.

Other college search sites, such as ScholarMatch, plan to use the federal scorecard data to customize the selection process for students on their websites.

While the scorecard provides a lot of data to dig through, the tool does have some shortcomings. For example, several higher education experts I talked to said the website doesn’t provide enough data and options for sorting and filtering the schools.

Before using the scorecard or any other college search site, you can save some time by knowing the type of academic major and degree your student is interested in pursuing, said Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of the financial aid website.

Also consider school locations. Is your student interested in staying close to home or going far away? In-state or out-of-state? Urban, suburban or rural? That will help narrow the search process.

What the federal numbers won’t tell you is whether a school is a good academic fit, a good social fit, or anything about the institution’s overall reputation. And, as many of you know, the menu choices during a campus visit can clinch the deal.

Still, a huge part of the college decision comes down to finding a good financial fit. That may seem obvious, but a whole lot of college graduates are in financial trouble today because they took their eye off that ball.

On that measure, the new federal scorecard — at a minimum — provides a good starting point.