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College Navigator Assists College Search Process

A new website from the US Department of Education was unveiled recently to help students in their college search process. The site is called “College Navigator.”  (Some know it by it’s handy acronym:  COOL, or “College Opportunities Online.”  COOL uses data collected by the US Department of Education as part of its National Center for Education Statistics.

I have used this data before, and I actually helped to compile it during my time at the University of Denver. It’s important to know that these data are compiled and reported NOT by offices of admissions, but by the offices of institutional research at colleges and universities.  These data, while still subject to tinkering by universities, are generally MUCH more reliable than any marketing propaganda generated by the marketing whizzes in the admissions offices.  While the data is good and has been accessible in the past, up until just the other day, the data sets on the government sites were beastly to manipulate.
Well, the beast has been tamed. The new site is a searchable database that allows students and counselors to select certain variables, and then the site pulls a list of colleges and universities that fit the selected criteria. Better, the site allows students to compare data side by side.

This government effort (which comes out of US Department of Education Secretary Margaret Spellings’ 2006 report on access to information and higher education assessment) goes a long way in giving consumers raw information upon which to base more informed decisions about colleges and universities. As I explored in a previous post, many college and university associations are trying to find ways to get around the deleterious effect of US News and World Report’s annual rankings. Their aim is to provide more and better information directly to students and their families. This College Navigator site may actually meet the need for more and better data, obviating the need for these private efforts.

I recommend this site wholeheartedly. It is a great place to start the college process. However, it is no substitute for expert advice. The issue is not only access to information. It is interpretation of that information in light of an individual student’s needs, interests, and aspirations. But at least College Navigator is not a site that is trying to sell books (like Peterson’s) or magazines (like US News). College Navigator is a welcome addition to the college search process.

Mark Montgomery
Montgomery Educational Consulting

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