Will you be able to pay back your loan? There’s finally data to help you make an educated guess.

For the first time ever, there’s a way to judge how well a school serves its students using data instead of rumors. This September, the Department of Education launched College Scorecard, a website that lets users compare institutions of higher education by average net cost, completion rates, typical student loan debt, and income 10 years after attending. For students considering a transfer and high school students deciding where to apply, having access to this data is huge.

Numbers back up reputation
Before students even apply to a school, they can see an estimate of how much their family will be expected to pay based on students of similar family income who completed the FAFSA the previous year. Viewing a college’s cost alongside average loan burden and median income 10 years after attending makes clear the long-term return on investment. Completion rate is also displayed, as students who drop out before graduation typically struggle the most to repay loans.

Holes in the old system
Up until now, colleges have been ranked based on mostly input factors, such as resources, perceived prestige, and selectivity. However, there hasn’t been a consistent way to measure how well students do after graduation, and the rankings could even be manipulated. To increase selectivity, schools sometimes encourage as many students as possible to apply so that admissions could reject more of them. In other cases, simply increasing tuition has made a school appear more prestigious. Even offering great amenities and programs for undergraduates doesn’t necessarily guarantee that students do well after they graduate.

Money’s not everything, but…
While some colleges have said that an undergraduate degree is more valuable than what can be measured by prices, loans, and salaries, we at NSCS hear from members every day about how difficult it can be to pay high tuition prices.

Coming up: Income by major
Eventually, College Scorecard plans to break down median income by program or major within institutions. With access to these numbers, the decision whether to risk a heavy loan burden for the possibility of a higher wage will be a more informed one.

Are you a policy wonk? Here’s the whole deal.

The George Washington University is the university closest to NSCS Headquarters, so we chose them to pick on. Here’s a breakdown of the GW’s average cost.