As rising seniors prepare to return to high school for their senior year, I thought I’d prepare an article discussing a way to find out a lot of information about prospective colleges. The tool is called College Navigator and it is maintained by the National Center for Education Statistics, a division of the U.S. Department of Education.
Most of my friends, family, and neighbors had children who attended college before my daughters. Whenever the conversation about colleges surfaced, I asked them if they had looked up colleges on College Navigator. Usually, I would open my laptop and take them through the website highlighting a few key pieces of data for prospective colleges.
Locating the website
It’s helpful to have the names of a couple of colleges in mind when you enter https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/ into your web browser. Here’s a screenshot of the opening page.
As you can see, the appropriate place to enter the name of a college is in the upper left-hand corner. Be aware that the tool requires a perfect match so don’t get frustrated if you can’t find the school right away.
For my example, I’m going to search for the University of Florida. I typed in University of Florida because there may be more than one location and am not sure if the state flagship in Gainesville is listed under the University of Florida or the University of Florida Gainesville or some other variation. As you can see from the screenshot below, it is University of Florida.
I clicked on the University of Florida versus the University of Florida-Online. (There is a feature on the initial screen and the following screen where you can make the institution one of your favorites for quicker access in the future.) The following screen appears.
The yellow shaded box at the top has a short summary overview that notes the name and address, school phone number, degrees offered, campus setting, campus housing available (or not), student population, student faculty ratio, and related institutions. In this case, I note that it’s a four-year, public institution with 55,211 students – 34,552 of them are undergraduates. It’s one of the largest residential universities in the U.S. and has a very large population of graduate students.
I normally click Expand All but since this is a primer and I want to take screenshots, I decided to click General Information. The information provides links to the university website for admissions, applications, financial aid, net price calculator, tuition policies for servicemembers and veterans, disability services, athletic graduation rates, and mission statement.
General Information also includes information about financial aid, student services, special learning opportunities, Carnegie classification (in this case Doctoral Universities, Very High Research Activity), and a breakout of the faculty.
Type of credit accepted is listed and the University of Florida accepts dual credit (from high schools and community colleges usually) and AP credit.
The university also offers four ROTC programs, study abroad programs, weekend and evening college, as well as distance education for undergraduate and graduate programs.
Tuition, Fees, and Estimated Student Expenses
The first grouping of data is for Estimated Expenses for Full-Time Beginning Undergraduate Students. Because the University of Florida is a state-funded institution, there are published tuition and fees for In-state students and Out-of-state students. As you can see in the exhibit below, the gap between the two is approximately $22,300 per year. Data is provided for the last four academic years so that you can see the relative increases in tuition, fees, and expenses during that period. Impressively, the University of Florida has held its tuition flat during this recent four-year period.
Living arrangement expenses are broken out between On Campus Room and Board and Other, Off Campus Room and Board and Other, and Off Campus with Family. All expenses are totaled for a Cost of Attendance for In-state students and Out-of-state students.
Lastly, average graduate school tuition and fees for In-state and Out-of-state students are listed. Graduate tuition for In-state students increased by nearly 70%. Of note Is that the Out-of-state graduate tuition and fees are slightly less than the Out-of-state undergraduate tuition and fees. Given that graduate terms, particularly Master’s degrees, may be shorter in duration than a four-year bachelor’s degree, I’m not sure whether charging a similar tuition for Out-of-state graduate students is meaningful or not.
Statistics regarding Financial Aid awards are listed in the next tab and shown below. The tab begins with data for first time, full time undergraduate students. Even though the summary overview stated that there were 34,552 undergraduate students, the first-time, full-time count of freshmen is approximately 6,749.
To calculate that figure, you must take the number of first-time, full-time students who are awarded aid (6,344) and divide that number by the percentage of students who are awarded aid (94%). If you multiply 6,749 times 4 (years), the number 26,996 surfaces for the approximate number of full-time undergraduate students. By the way, if 94% of students are awarded aid, approximately 6% are full-pay.
For many private colleges and universities, the percentage of students who are awarded aid may be close to 100%. That’s because of the colleges’ merit aid grant programs or tuition discounts that are used as part of their enrollment management strategy. I highly recommend looking at this percentage when considering a private college or university.
The difference between 26,996 and 34,552 is the approximate number of part-time undergraduate students which is 7,556. The actual number will be different since not all first-time, full-time freshmen will remain full-time students, but it’s a reasonable estimate for a number that not many prospective students consider important.
The next few lines show the number and percentage of students who receive institutional grants, Pell grants, other Federal grants, and state and local government grants as well as the average $ value per student for each grant category. For In-state students, it appears that these grants closely approximately the In-state tuition and make attending the University of Florida more affordable. The average amount of institutional grant is even more important for evaluating a private college or university.
This page also lists the number of students and percentage of students awarded Federal and other loans as well as the average $ value of these loans. Only 9% of the first-time, full-time students borrowed through Federal loan programs.
Financial aid data is also provided for all undergraduate students. With 90% awarded grant or scholarship aid compared to 94% for first-time, full-time, it appears that the number of grant recipients decreases slightly over time. The $ value of those grants declined approximately 10% from $10,555 for first-time, full-time freshmen to $9,538 for all undergraduates. Part of the explanation for that decline could be due to undergrads who received the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship failing to maintain required GPA and completed semester hours.
The Department of Education requires all colleges and universities that participate in the Federal Student Aid program to provide Net Price Calculators on their websites. The next section not only provides you with a link to the University of Florida net price calculator, but it also provides that data for three consecutive years.
It is important to note that net price is calculated by taking the total institutional cost of attendance (the total expenses amount from the tuition, fees, and estimated student expenses section) less the average amount of federal, state/local government grants plus average institutional grants or scholarships. The average net price of $11,740 for 2021-2022 reflects the COA of $21,811 less $10,071 in average aggregate grants.
The Department of Education requires institutions to submit the net price by quintiles of family income. For all three years displayed in the chart above, the net price increases as income increases with students receiving financial aid whose family income is $110,001 and above (the highest quintile) paying the highest average net price of $15,203 per year versus students in the lowest income quintile paying an average of $2,033 per year. The $2,033 net price for the lowest income quintile in 2021-2022 is the lowest among flagship state universities but is a sizable increase over the previous year’s net price which was $0. Given that the university hasn’t increased undergraduate tuition in three years, the increase of $2,033 in the first quintile was likely a planned redistribution of aid by quintile (or the money allocated to that quintile did not increase and the number of new undergraduate students in that quintile increased thus requiring some net payment).
The tab on enrollment breaks out undergraduate and graduate students by attendance status (full-time and part-time), gender, race/ethnicity, age, and In-state vs. Out-of-state. With 80% of University of Florida undergraduates classifying as In-state, the 15% of Out-of-State undergraduates and 5% foreign undergraduates are providing a valuable contribution margin to the University by paying $22,300 more in tuition annually than residents of the state.
For serious applicants, the admissions tab is insightful. The chart below breaks out undergraduate admissions data for the Fall of 2022. Data includes the number of applicants, the number and percentage of applicants admitted, and the number and percentage of admitted applicants who enrolled. The University of Florida admitted 23% of all applicants and 44% of those who were admitted enrolled.
The chart provides a matrix of admissions requirements and non-required items that will be considered. For example, the University of Florida requires a high school GPA, completion of a college-preparatory program, a personal statement or essay, and SAT/ACTs.
The chart also provides the numbers and percentages of enrollees who submitted SATs and ACTs as well as the 25th, 50th, and 75th percentile scores for each of those tests and their major components. The median (50th percentile) for the SAT was 690 for Reading and Writing and 700 Math. The 25th percentile for the SAT was 650 for the same sections. The 75th percentile was 730 for Reading and Writing and 760 for Math. I find these numbers useful for assessing the chances of admission and clearly, the University of Florida is more selective than many state universities that are similar in size of enrollment.
Retention and Graduation Rates
The Retention and Graduation Rates section provides useful information for the prospective student and the student’s guidance counselor. There are several charts in this section. The first chart shows the percentage of freshmen who return for the next year. It’s 97% for full-time students and 96% for part-time students. Both numbers are great indicators. The chart after that shows a 6-year graduation rate of 90% plus a transfer out rate of 6%. Given the size of Florida’s undergraduate student body, I think that’s a great graduation rate. However, the four-year graduation rate is 72% indicating that approximately 25% of the full-time freshmen who enter take at least another semester to graduate.
The College Navigator reports the graduation and transfer out results for full-time and part-time entering students. In the charts below, you can see that part-time students graduate at almost half the rate as full-time students. Part-time students receiving Pell grants have a graduation rate approximately 64 points lower. Because Pell grants have a time limit of 12 terms and part-time students receive a lower value grant, it’s possible those factors could be the primary reason for the lower graduation rate.
Programs and Majors
While the university’s catalog should be the primary source of information regarding programs and majors, this section is useful to gauge the popularity of each program since the number of graduates is listed for the previous year. I don’t know that Florida has the highest number of undergraduate degrees (I’ve always heard that the honor for that goes to Ohio State), but they have pages of degrees in these charts.
For someone who may be interested in remaining in college to earn a master’s or doctoral degrees, these charts are useful to see if the program(s) you are interested in are available at that institution and how many graduate students earn a degree each year.
I’ve appended charts below of the departments with more than 750 bachelor’s degrees granted in the previous year. They are Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Business and Management, Engineering, Health Professions and Related Programs, and Social Sciences. I’ve also appended the grand total of all degrees granted.
Servicemembers and Veterans
Some schools have a very low population of servicemembers and veterans. This is a useful chart for veterans seeking a veteran-friendly school. In the chart below, you can see that nearly 650 undergraduates and grad students attended using the Post 9-11 GI Bill benefits. Those veterans also persist at a rate similar to the non-veteran students.
Varsity Athletic Teams
The University of Florida participates in the NCAA’s Division 1 programs as a member of the SEC. The chart below may be a bit understated in terms of describing the athletic teams sponsored by the school. There is a link to the Department of Education’s athletics home page for more information.
The section lists the University of Florida’s institutional accreditor, which is the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges (SACS). They’ve been accredited since 1924. It’s the institutional accreditation that is generally the most important to check.
Notably, the Florida legislature and governor have signed a bill that requires state universities to switch their institutional accreditor every 10-year cycle. It’s not known if the University of Florida will choose to comply with that in 2024 since the U.S. Department of Education has issued guidance indicating that it will require approval for state institutions to switch institutional accreditors.
The section also lists programmatic accreditors. I believe it’s a requirement for the college or university to report programmatic accreditors and for some reason, ABET is not listed even though it accredits approximately a dozen engineering degrees at the university.
Campus Security and Safety
I recommend that every parent look at the Campus Security and Safety section. The Cleary Act requires colleges and universities to report crimes on campus and off-campus within a certain radius of campus. The University of Florida campus is large and comprises a substantial area of Gainesville, FL.
I don’t know that any crimes are “reasonable” given an institution or community’s size but recommend that a prospective student review this list since fraudulent reporting is against the law.
Cohort Default Rates
The final section reports the cohort default rates for student loans for each of the three most recent years. The University of Florida’s pre-covid rate is low at .9%. This is a good indicator that students are repaying their loans because they were able to find a decent paying job or because their loan balances were low. This number will be less relevant for any college over the next few years due to the suspension of loan repayment requirements during the Covid pandemic and the extension of that suspension by the Biden Administration.
I hope you found this primer helpful. Not everyone will use it or scroll through all the sections. The key datapoints that I usually seek are total enrollment, enrollment trends, acceptance rates, net price, and financial aid awards, more specifically institutional grants.
The Department of Education has attempted to build the College Scorecard into a consumer-friendly website. I think the low percentage of users is an indicator that there’s much more work to be completed before prospective parents and students use it. One of the biggest negatives is that the College Scorecard only reports data for students who borrow. At some institutions, particularly state institutions, a lower percentage of students borrow.
If you’ve reviewed a college through College Navigator and continue to be interested, I would recommend using College Scorecard to see if there is additional information such as graduates’ median earnings that may be helpful information in winnowing down your list of prospective colleges.