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Website compares public colleges

Profile image for By Jenna Duncan / Staff Writer
By Jenna Duncan / Staff Writer

High school students and parents have a new way to research colleges in Texas, with the newest Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s website .

Featuring only public universities and community colleges, the website allows visitors to search for schools by name or through a quick interactive graphic.

Visitors choose a range for average tuition and fees per year, the percent of applicants accepted and the percent of students who graduate within six years and the website generates a list of schools that fit the criteria.

On each school’s page, basic data like enrollment and admissions information are displayed, along with data of first-year earnings.

This data was first released in the 2011 Texas Public Higher Education Almanac and the website makes it available online for the first time, Fred W. Heldenfels IV, chairman of the THECB, said in the website’s announcement last week.

“Texas has long had the best accountability data and public college education of any state,” he said. “Now, we’re taking the next step by putting the data online in a user-friendly look with easy to read graphics.”

Publishing the first-year earnings data will be an advantage for Texas Woman’s University, said Richard Nicholas, the university’s vice president of student life. TWU is ranked second in the state for median income for graduates their first year out of school, data the school has not been able to track.

“It is an advantage,” he said. “We try to track some of that, but we don’t have the state’s resources. We think these kinds of comparisons will serve us very well.”

While there is new comprehensive data in an easy-to-use format, other local school officials are concerned about prospective students being able to find their school. Dr. Rebecca Lothringer, the University of North Texas’ director of undergraduate admissions, said when she first searched for schools using the three indicator scales, she didn’t find UNT.

“My concern for North Texas and students using it is that it took me, someone working at North Texas, a while to find us using the sliding-scale options,” she said. “That was a concern for me; I thought ‘What if they never even see us?’”

Additionally, she said the three indicators may be hard for some people to understand, as the student or parent might not know what a benchmark for an acceptance or graduation rate. However, when she pulled up the school’s profile and did the comparisons against other schools, Lothringer was pleased with how UNT was presented.

The simple, visual format will help students and parents who are unfamiliar with higher education, Nicholas said.

“It’s a really good idea to have this information out there for prospective students,” he said.

TWU has a high percentage of students who are the first in their families to attend college, he said, and those families aren’t familiar with how university admissions works. The site will be especially helpful to those families, he said.

The website also has a mobile version of the site, and both are easy for a digital generation to navigate and understand, said Billy Roessler, vice president of student services at North Central Texas College.

“I think this is a format that students are more accustomed to using right now with the interactive nature of it,” he said. “It’s going to be a tool where they have more information about their choices that they’re considering next.”

JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @JennaFDuncan.