Students and parents looking into colleges may find themselves swamped in numbers and questions.
What’s the cost of this, that and those? Where does the college rank in this survey and that guidebook? If a student has trouble, will he have the support to get him through to graduation? When she’s finished, will there be a job waiting? What kind of job?
The federal government for several years has produced a plethora of data in its College Scorecard. The scorecard began under President Barack Obama and has been carried forward by President Donald Trump’s administration, with some information added.
But these numbers, from thousands of colleges and universities across the country, tell only part of the story. Every student’s circumstances and college experience differ.
Dylan Raney, a recent Papillion-La Vista High School graduate, said there were times when the amount of information in his college search seemed imposing. There were so many sources that Raney didn’t recall if the scorecard was one of them. Many other sites contain information about colleges, such as College Navigator, CollegeData and collegeresults.org.
Raney said he considered the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the University of Nebraska at Omaha, Hastings College and the University of Nebraska at Kearney. In the end, he said, the decision wasn’t hard.
UNK has the kind of information technology and cybersecurity programs he’s looking for. Plus, the campus just seemed right.
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“It felt pretty friendly,” Raney said. “It felt like it could be a home.”
looks at numerous factors, including a school’s cost of attendance, graduation rates, median salaries and the debt students face when they leave.
The scorecard draws from sources such as federal financial aid programs and tax information. Cost of attendance reflects tuition, fees, books, supplies, and room and board for full-time, first-time undergraduates who receive federal aid. Therefore, it’s not a look at the entire student body.
Scott Seevers, a vice president at Concordia University in Seward, Nebraska, said he has no objections to the College Scorecard as long as people know it’s a starting point and not the finish line.
“The data tells us a story, but it doesn’t tell the full story,” Seevers said. Everyone should seek far more information, he said.
He said the scorecard is both better and worse than U.S. News, one of the best known resources for information about colleges. The scorecard does not rank schools. U.S. News does.
U.S. News uses “much of that same data,” he said, but adds some information, such as the opinions of a college by administrators at other schools. The administrators aren’t always deeply familiar with the schools they rank, he said. “Once again, the conclusions are generally accurate but always imperfect.”
Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), Seevers said, and apply to colleges (it costs nothing to do so at Concordia and many other schools). And, Seevers said, visit campuses.
“It has to be a fit,” said Mary Chase, a vice provost at Creighton University.
Here's how schools in Nebraska and Iowa stack up in several key areas in the College Scorecard. This article compares regional colleges’ data to similar universities or colleges’ sports conferences.
Annual cost after financial aid
Pinning down annual costs can be difficult. It can be tough to anticipate how much a student will spend on late-night pizzas, that memorable party, the spur-of-the-moment trip to see U2 or an Arby’s obsession.
UNO’s annual average cost for first-time, full-time undergraduates is low compared with UNL’s and UNK’s, and it ranks a bit better than the middle of its peer schools.
Peer schools enable the NU Board of Regents to compare faculty salaries and other things to similar kinds of universities. UNO’s average cost, according to the scorecard, is $13,173 after financial aid is subtracted.
“A lot of it is trying to keep higher education accountable,” Omar Correa, a UNO associate vice chancellor, said of the scorecard.
Correa said there are “a lot of variables that make it a little bit more challenging” to compare schools. Costs, salaries and debt are individual matters that hinge on things like financial aid, field of study and occupation.
UNL’s cost of attendance listed on the scorecard, $17,784, is in the middle of its comparison schools, including those in the Big Ten. UNK’s $16,644 places it near the high end of its comparison schools, including those in its athletic conference.
Penn State’s cost, listed at $30,373, is the highest by far in the Big Ten. A Penn State spokeswoman said, among other things, that tuition rates are dependent on state support. “Generous state support usually results in lower tuition,” she said through an email. “Pennsylvania has annually remained ranked between 46th and 49th in the nation in its per capita support of higher education.”
Creighton University’s annual net cost is high — $30,427 — compared with most of the 68 schools examined for this article. Creighton’s cost in the scorecard also is higher than eight other private colleges in Nebraska as well as Drake University in Des Moines and Northwestern University in the Chicago area.
But Creighton’s average annual salary 10 years after enrollment is favorable, as is reflected below. “We look beyond just the cost of tuition,” Chase said. “We prepare our students not just for their first job, but for a career of experiences that span more than 40 years.”
She said it’s less of an expense than it is an investment. “It is about a life lived well when you come to Creighton.”
Graduation rate after six years; admission standards
UNL placed itself in competitive company when it joined the Big Ten. Being in the Big Ten means UNL gets compared in more ways than just athletics with some of the top public universities in the country, such as Michigan and Wisconsin.
And when matched against those competitors, as well as UNL’s peers selected by the NU Board of Regents, UNL comes in next-to-last place in this category. UNL’s graduation rate, at 67% after six years, is ahead of only Kansas’ 63%.
Three of the regents’ peer schools for UNL — Colorado, Colorado State and Missouri — did only 1 or 2 percentage points better than UNL.
Iowa State undergraduates’ typical ACT score range, 22 to 28, is about the same as UNL’s (22 to 29). Iowa State’s graduation rate is 7 percentage points higher than UNL’s.
UNL says it’s working to increase its graduation rate. “We have made good strides in improving our graduation rates, and are continuing to put new programs in place to ensure our students succeed,” UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green said in a written statement. “One approach we won’t take is to become more exclusive by limiting students who can apply. For 150 years, we’ve been Nebraska’s university, and we are committed to providing access to the young people of this state.”
UNL spokeswoman Leslie Reed said that 15 years ago, UNL’s graduation rate was 59%. The university, she said, has created strategies to get more students through freshman year and thus improve its graduation rate.
Chart: Typical ACT range of incoming students
Note: Data not available for Wayne St.
The typical range of ACT scores at UNL is lower than those at most of its comparison schools and in some instances far lower. There is a clear link between high ACT scores and high graduation rates.
UNL’s graduation rate exceeds that of UNO and UNK. But when compared with peer colleges, UNK’s graduation rate of 59% is near the top of the batch.
“We feel really good about it,” said Dusty Newton, UNK’s director of admissions. UNO’s graduation rate of 46% tilts toward the low end of comparison colleges.
Bellevue University showed a graduation rate of 24%. The university said many of its students are working adults and transfer students who wouldn’t show up in these statistics. Bellevue also showed an annual cost of $11,938, which is among the lowest of the 68 colleges examined.
Median salary of students 10 years later
Creighton shines in this category. Of all of the colleges examined for this story, Creighton’s average annual salary, 10 years after students enroll in the college, is fifth-highest among 68 schools, behind Northwestern, Michigan, Illinois and Maryland. Creighton’s salary weighs in at $59,700. “The success of our alumni speaks volumes,” Chase said.
Concordia’s average salary of $40,100 is fairly low compared with some other private colleges in Nebraska, plus Drake. Seevers said: “We have a lot of students that go into education. And we’re proud of that.”
Education is Concordia’s biggest program, he said, and teachers’ salaries often don’t compete with those of many business majors. Good teachers “are there because of the people that they impact, and they get their rewards in many different ways,” Seevers said.
UNL’s salary of $46,400 is next-to-last among its peers, better only than Ohio State’s. UNO’s average salary is $44,200, in the middle of its group, and UNK’s $41,300 is higher than most of its peers.
UNL spokeswoman Reed said many factors can come into play “that have nothing to do with quality.” She cited a low cost of living in Nebraska, the fact that the data is based only on students receiving federal aid and possibly the choice of professions made by many UNL graduates.
Nebraska’s three state colleges — Peru, Chadron and Wayne — showed salaries under $40,000.
Typical student debt
Student debt is a growing concern for those in higher education.
The scorecard said its federal student loan data “can provide useful information for students and families concerned about borrowing for college ... ”
Midland University in Fremont had the highest median student federal debt of any of the 68 schools examined for this article — $27,000. Midland representatives said their university has many first-generation students from families of modest income, and they have to borrow to attend college.
Midland President Jody Horner said a college degree has great value. “Whether it’s $23,000 of debt or $27,000, that’s a good investment,” Horner said. “We view it as an investment and a good reason to take on debt.”
UNO’s average undergraduate student debt is the lowest, $19,500, among its comparison schools. Bellevue was lower still at $19,271.
UNL’s student debt among its peers leaned toward the high side at $21,788. UNK’s, $20,980, was a bit lower than the majority of its peers.
Creighton’s average student debt is comparatively high at $25,300, but four of the Nebraska private schools, as well as Drake, show higher student debt rates.
The three state colleges have fairly low student debt rates, with Chadron State’s the lowest — $18,500.
Paul Turman, chancellor of the Nebraska state college system, said measuring all schools on the same playing field “leads to misrepresentation.” But Turman said that generally, the state colleges’ data in the scoreboard reflects what he would expect. And it’s good, he said, that the federal government provides the information to the public.
Concordia’s Seevers said prospective students should consider all of the data they can get. Ultimately, he said, they should “make a decision informed by the data but never dictated by the data.”
Chart: Comparing Nebraska schools and their peers
The following chart compares Nebraska universities and many of their peer schools. Salary indicates average reported salary 10 years after enrolling, debt indicates student-related debt and ACT indicates the typical range of incoming students.
Note: * - Crete campus
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The 8-man Friend football team rides their bikes back to the school from the football field in Friend, Nebraska, on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2004. The team opted out of 11-man football this season, but they will not be able to compete in the playoffs.
From left: Emmalee Gibbs, 16, of Hastings, Nebraska, Ciara Figgins, 14, of Ayr, Nebraska, and Summer Kull, 16, also of Hastings, goof around as they wait for the green light to start work with a crew from S & J Detasseling in a field a few miles north of Hastings on Friday, July 27, 2012. As the end of the detasseling season neared, S & J Detasseling had close to 165 workers in the field on Friday and had detasseled close to 10,000 acres in the area for three different seed companies. They expect to finish the fields next week.
Andy Peters of Council Bluffs, Iowa, works on a painting alongside his dog Phoebe while overlooking his acreage in Council Bluffs, Iowa, on Tuesday, July 7, 2015. In June, the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City awarded Peters its 2015 Prix de West Purchase Award and made his oil painting "The Lake of Glass" part of its permanent collection.
On Sunday, March 20, 2011, in Omaha, Nebraska, Owen Moeller, 6, left, and Bei Warner, 6, both of Omaha, take in the exhibit "With Malice Toward None", including Franz Zelezny's sculpture of Lincoln, originally placed at Omaha's Central High School in 1908. Today is the last day of Durham Museum's presentation of "With Malice Toward None" the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Exhibition from the Library of Congress.
Nate Croom's eyelashes frosted over while running the trails at the Chalco Hills Recreation Area on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018, in Omaha, Nebraska, as morning temperatures were at or near zero. Croom said he prepared for his run by dressing appropriately and by knowing which way the wind was blowing.
Astronaut Clayton Anderson visits children at Children's Hospital and Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska, on Thursday June 17, 2010. Here, he plays peek-a-boo with 3-year-old Kiana Sharon of Omaha.
Avelynn Buss, 9, of Lincoln, Nebraska, center, blows bubbles with her sister, Rya, 6, and brother, Kyrin, 7, outside Memorial Stadium before Nebraska played Northwestern in Lincoln, Nebraska, on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017.
Diane Johnson, right, of Omaha, Nebraska, makes her way into the CenturyLink Center Omaha with glasses fogged by the collision of warm breath and cold air on Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017. The old year and the new year exchanged a chilly greeting, making the holiday a good time to stay inside, although many still layered up and ventured out to welcome 2018 with frosty breath.
Kristina Pakiz coaxes smiles from her kids as she takes their picture in front of the Christmas tree at the Durham Museum during the annual Wells Fargo Family Festival in Omaha, Nebraska, on Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016.
A look through an image of an elephant printed on a mesh net covering a chain linked fence where crews work on the $73 million African Grasslands project at the Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium in Omaha, Nebraska, on Friday, May 01, 2015. The two-phase project which spans 28 acres will be opening in it's entirety in the summer of 2017.
Steve Woster finds a cool spot in the shade at Turner Park on Friday, July 14, 2006, in Omaha, Nebraska. Out of the five structures, Woster said this was the most comfortable to recline in because of the incline. Woster was sitting in "Sounding Stone" by artist Leslie Iwai.
Jesse McNew and Chelsea Main kiss after exchanging vows and rings at Chops Bowling in Omaha, Nebraska, on Saturday, Sept. 6, 2014. Before they were ever engaged, the couple committed themselves to the idea of a â€œBig Lebowskiâ€ wedding.
Sheri Jacoby, visits with a male cria alpaca known as Law Breaker, as mother Miss Money Penny, back left, looks on in the pasture at sunrise in Fort Calhoun, Nebraska, on Friday, Sept. 18, 2015. On Sept. 26-27, the Jacobys will host a free open house on their ranch where you can see their 28 alpacas and purchase things made from alpaca fleece.
Mosquitos were a big problem for Lewis and Clark during their incredible journey and they're still an irritant for those enjoying this Memorial Day weekend. Laura Carpenter, 6, of Olathe, Kansas, sizes up a giant version of the problem on display at the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Trail and Visitors Center in Nebraska City, Nebraska, on Saturday May 28, 2005.
Brian Schulze, left, 10, carries his brother, Levi, 10, both of Aurora, Nebraska, across the muddy ground leading to the entrance of the Nebraska State Fair in Grand Island, Nebraska, on Saturday, Aug. 25, 2012. The brothers had come to the fair to see the antique tractor parade, but it was postponed until Sunday because of the rain.
From left: Ukash Weliyo and Ali Aden talk with Charles Mitchell, the Community Bike Project manager, at the project's shop near 33rd and California Streets in Omaha, Nebraska, on Friday, April 25, 2014. Mitchell teaches bicycle repair at the project. He also runs a program that allows youths to earn bikes by volunteering at the shop.
Tray Yokley with C Battery 3rd U.S. Artillery fires a 24 pound siege gun during Labor Day Weekend celebrations at Fort Kearney near Kearney, Nebraska, on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2004.
Liz Luke applies lipstick before performing Bharatanatyam dance during her Aragetram at the Jewish Community Center in Omaha, Nebraska, on Saturday, April 23rd, 2016. Luke has practiced this type of classical dance for ten years.
Hunting guide Aaron Schroder calls in ducks at Pheasant Bonanza's private duck blind near Tekamah, Nebraska. Pheasant Bonanza, the company Schroder works for, acquired the blind and installed it last summer about 300 yards from the banks of the Missouri, on a river bend.
Dave Rokusek of Loup City leads the accordian jamboree at the 2010 Wilber Czech Festival in Wilber, Nebraska, on Friday, Aug. 7, 2010. McKenna is the 100th member of the Krebs family, counting Mary's children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and their spouses.
The fans appear concerned for UNO's Ryan Walters (17), left, and Max French (16) as they battle for the puck in the first period as the University of Nebraska at Omaha Mavericks defeat the Bentley Falcons 4-2 at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Nebraska, on Saturday, October 12, 2013.
South High School students Lulu Machuca, left, a junior, Elizabeth Contreras, a senior, and Gabby Cubilla, a senior, ride in the Cinco de Mayo parade in South Omaha on Saturday, May 4, 2013. The girls were competing to be queen of Cinco de Mayo.
A bicyclist rides by a patriotic mural on a building near Military Street and William Avenue in Fremont, Nebraska, on Monday, June 21, 2010.
Alli Venditte, 8, smiles while making a snow angel on near the intersection of William Street and Park Wild Avenue in Omaha, Nebraska, on Feb. 8, 2017.
Pam Warrick of Omaha, Nebraska, is illuminated by her phone as the sun becomes totally eclipsed in Falls City, Nebraska. State tourism officials estimate that hundreds of thousands of visitors viewed the eclipse in Nebraska.
Rory Meeks, of Marion, Iowa, applies makeup in his Omaha Arena dressing room on Friday, Feb. 13, 2004, in Omaha, Nebraska. Meeks is a bullfighter and rodeo clown for the Dodge World's Toughest Rodeo held this weekend at the
Sporting Jurassic Park attire, Scott Cain of Council Bluffs, Iowa, transports his 18-month son, Alex, across the street during the Old Market Fall Festival near 11th and Harney Streets in Omaha, Nebraska, on Sunday, October 29, 2017.
Luther Salveson with the VEE Corporation in Minneapolis, Minnesota, attaches the putter shaft to the putter handle during the installation of a 12-foot-tall likeness of Mutual of Omaha sponsored golfer Fred Funk, in front of the Mutual of Omaha Building in Omaha, Nebraska, on Tuesday, June 4, 2013. Funk competed in the U.S. Senior Open golf tournament coming to Omaha in July.
Volunteer Jessica Ovici, who is a network engineer with Cox Business, washes a hand railing as she prepares it for painting during the United Way's annual Day of Caring on Friday, Aug. 26, 2016, in Omaha, Nebraska, at the Urban League of Nebraska.
Carol Rogers, 59, left, visits her mother, Jeanne Rogers, 79, who has Alzheimer's, at the Douglas County Health Center on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013. Rogers said her mother had been the principal at Druid Hill Elementary School for 20 years. Rogers, an Omaha native who sang around the world for 25 years with Sergio Mendes, is back in Omaha to care for her mother.
Omaha Fire Department Assistant Fire Marshall James Gentile supports an American flag as it is raised by the Omaha and Bellevue fire departments before the start of a remembrance service held at the Kroc Center on Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011, in Omaha, Nebraska.
Jake Chapman was fully frosted over after clearing snow at his home in Norfolk, Nebraska, on Monday, Jan. 22, 2018. Norfolk was one of the areas hardest hit by the blizzard in eastern Nebraska, with the city receiving 14.6 inches of snow. The airport there reported a wind gust of 60 mph with visibility dropping to a quarter-mile.
All Saints Catholic 4th-grade student Noel Eremti rides the school bus as the sun comes up in Omaha, Nebraska, on Thursday, April 14th, 2016.
Jade Blackwell of Rapid City, South Dakota, takes a moment to gather his composure before competing in Saddle Bronc Riding during Nebraska's Big Rodeo on Friday, July 26, 2013, in Burwell, Nebraska. As the rodeo's popularity has grown, larger purses are offered to winners, leading to better and more established riders competing.
Anthony Andrade, 10, climbs on a tank while playing with friends at Ta-Ha Zouka Park in Elkhorn, Nebraska, on Friday, March 14, 2016. The park is slated for a large renovation by Omaha Parks and Recreation.
Jane LaHood, 76, dusts a small table at the Holy Name Catholic Church's side chapel on Monday, Feb. 3, 2014, in Omaha, Nebraska. LaHood has been volunteering as a church cleaner for about seven years.
Brooks Good, 5, from Lincoln, Nebraska, takes a drink of water while watching the Friday Night Lights football camp at Memorial Stadium on Friday, June 17, 2016, in Lincoln.
Cody Compton, center, and Allison Leisingk dance at the Norden Barn Dance on Sunday, July 23, 2017, in Norden, Nebraska. The Norden Barn Dance, a 117-year-old attraction in northern Nebraskaâ€™s Keya Paha County, keeps alive a Saturday night tradition shared by many Nebraska towns 50 years ago. Local residents and visitors, young and old, have kept the barn dance going. And once people are drawn to the Depression-era barn in unincorporated Norden, they just keep coming back.
Alex Captyne sits in the entryway of a former doghouse he calls home on Friday, Jan. 26, 2001, in Omaha, Nebraska. Captyne has been splitting his nights between the doghouse and a homeless shelter for the past 1 1/2 years.
"We're not spring chickens anymore," says 77-year-old Edward Sharp as he cuddles up to his 72-year-old wife Gloria on Thursday, July 24, 2003, in Beemer, Nebraska. The two love birds scour a bean field along highway 275 west of Beemer in Cumming County. Swinging a pair of hoes handcrafted by Edward from a disking blade, they walk up and down the field with one row between them. "I used a little different formula on the herbicide on this field, about half as much and it worked about half as good," said Edward as he points out the weeds spotting an otherwise beautiful stand of soy beans. Edward was born and raised on this farm homesteaded by his great grandparents in the early 1860s. He married Gloria 52 years ago and the couple raised two boys and two girls, none of whom are farming now, "too much work," Edward says with a laugh and a shake of his hoe.
Dan Goodwin Sr. gives a man a shave at Spencer Street Barbershop, which he started in 1955.
A dog sticks its head out the window during Ralston's Independence Day parade on Monday, July 4, 2016 in Ralston. The parade featured classic cars, marching bands and lots of flags.
Dalamar Lee McTizic, lead engineer, works in a broadcast studio at Mind and Soul Radio on Friday, Jan. 6, 2017, in Omaha, Nebraska. The radio station broadcasts at 101.3 FM on the radio dial.
Burwell, Nebraska, native Bryant Kelley waits to compete in the Marty Sheets Memorial Junior Steer Riding during Nebraska's Big Rodeo on Friday, July 26, 2013, in Burwell. Junior events are mixed with professional events and allow young cowboys to develop their skills on a large stage.
Alexander Harris smiles after being covered in colored dye at the University of Nebraska at Omaha's Holi Festival held in the Pep Bowl on the UNO campus in Omaha, Nebraska, on Sunday, April 22, 2018.
Carly Thompson cleans the sacristy at the Holy Name Catholic Church on Monday, Jan. 13, 2014, in Omaha, Nebraska. Thompson has been volunteering at the church for six months. She said she enjoys the solitude of cleaning the church. The quiet atmosphere, she said, gives her a chance to reflect on her faith and her life.
Wenhao Huang, right, runs into the arms of Zhiling Yang as they celebrate graduating with degrees in international business administration from Bellevue University at the Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs, Iowa, on Saturday, June 3, 2017. This was the university's first class of Chinese students to graduate in a partnership with a Chinese university.
Cardiego Reyes, 9, does flips in a backyard pool as the temperature headed to the upper 90s before a storm near 30th Street and Woolworth Avenue in Omaha, Nebraska, on Thursday, July 13, 2006.
Lincoln Southwest High School freshman Katelyn Thompson slides in the mud during the NSAA state track and field championships at Burke Stadium on Saturday, May 20, 2017, in Omaha, Nebraska.
Fifth-graders Maximo Gaytan, right, and Wil Zamora take care to keep the American flag elevated as they fulfill the 5th-grade classâ€™s morning flag duty on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013.