How Google’s Expanded College Search Will Affect Colleges and their Applicants - Student Research Foundation

How Will Google’s Expanded College Search Affect Colleges and their Applicants?

If you Google the name of a college or university today, you will be surprised to discover that a lot more information appears than did only a few months ago. That is because Google is now putting up a lot more data about American Colleges and Universities, some of which comes from the U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Google is also serving up a variety of data about colleges that it appears to have generated internally.

The availability of more information is generally a good thing for college applicants and for colleges that are trying to attract more applicants to their undergraduate programs. Yet as we know, easily available information about colleges causes both colleges and applicants to behave in some new ways. The net effect is that both colleges and their applicants, after viewing the available data, find ways to make themselves appear more desirable. We learned that lesson from the major impact that U.S. News has exerted since that publication began to publish it college rankings back in 1983.

Interestingly, Google’s college info appears in different formats, depending on whether you search for a college on a smartphone or on a tablet or computer. On a smartphone, lots of information that has been amassed by Google itself appears at once. On a computer or tablet, the first results that appear are traditional search-engine links to other sources of information about the schools, including links to the college’s own website, to the college’s Wikipedia listing, and to the college’s rankings in U.S. News.

So for the purposes of today’s post, let’s be clear that we are talking about the information that Google provides when you search for a college on a smartphone. We searched for a dozen colleges in that way, and today we are reporting on what we saw.

When you do that, here is what you will find . . .

An Overview of the College

This includes the average yearly cost of attending after financial aid, the graduation rate, the acceptance rate and other basic information.

College Admissions Information

Google instantly provides information about the average SAT and ACT scores that admitted students have earned.

How will the instant availability of this information affect colleges and applicants? As is the case with admissions rates (see above), this data can make a college more attractive to students who do not expect to earn high scores on standardized tests, and conversely to students who do well.

Average Costs Before and After Financial Aid

Google totals the tuition and average costs (such as room and board and the cost of books) and arrives at a “full ticket” estimated cost for students who are not receiving financial aid. Google also provides an estimate of the cost of attending for students who receive an average amount of financial assistance that the school provides. For example, if the cost of attending a college before financial aid comes to $52,000 and students receive an average of $16,000 in financial aid, Google calculates the average cost of attending at $36,000.

Majors Offered

Google lists the college majors that are offered and the percentage of current students who are enrolled in them.  At one of the colleges we searched for, for example, 7.8% of current students are majoring in psychology and 4.6% are majoring in nursing.

Outcomes

Google provides information on the percentage of enrolled students who are expected to graduate after 4, 6 and 8 years of study.

Student Data

Google provides information on the race, gender, and income of current students, as well as the percentages of students who are attending full or part-time.

College Rankings

A Google search will turn up a wealth of information on how the college is ranked. One university we searched for, for example, is ranked #21 in the bestschools.com rankings for online MBA programs, and another school at #25 in the ranker.com listings for best acting programs.

Notable Alumni

Google also lists notable alumni who have attended the school you are researching.

A List of Similar Colleges

For each school you research, Google generates a list of schools that it classifies as similar, weighing a variety of factors that are not fully explained. We imagine that Google considers costs, selectivity, graduation rates, and possibly the availability of similar majors.

Let the College Admissions Games Begin . . .

How will the instant availability of this information affect the college and the application process? We expect that colleges will find ways to tinker with statistics in order to make themselves appear more attractive or, in some cases, more selective. A college that accepts larger percentages of applicants, for example, are likely to attract students who might have a difficult time getting accepted into elite institutions. But on the opposite side of the coin, colleges that accept a larger percentage of students can appear less attractive to some applicants. This tinkering was already taking place thanks to the now-standard U.S. News rankings, and the instant availability of information on Google will probably cause them to find new ways to alter the way they are perceived.

What data seems to be missing from the information that Google currently provides? Unlike U.S. News, the Google listings do not include information on average class sizes, the faculty/student ratio, information on campus safety, or on athletics. But we do know that if the information is “out there” somewhere, Google will probably find a way to access it and make it available to searchers.

A brave new world of college information seems to be dawning. Exactly where it leads, nobody knows. At least, we have to admit that we do not.

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