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IES Contract

Title: Development of an Education Return-on-Investment (ROI) Web Application Called Return on College (ROC)
Center: NCER Year: 2020
Principal Investigator: Carpenter, Jeffrey Awardee: Vantage Point Consulting
Program: Small Business Innovation Research      [Program Details]
Award Period: 2 years (06/18/2020 – 06/17/2022) Award Amount: $898,617
Type: Phase II Development Award Number: 91990020C0089

Project Website:

Video Demonstration of the Phase I Prototype:

Purpose: This project will support the full development and testing of Return on College (ROC), a tool to support students, families, and counselors with understanding of the lifetime costs and opportunity tradeoffs associated of different postsecondary degree programs. While all Title IV-compliant institutions are required to make a net-price calculator available to students, today's net price calculators only estimate the annual cost of attendance at a college but do not enable students and parents to evaluate if their investment is likely to have a positive economic return over a lifetime or whether expected wage increases associated with completion of a program of study cover monthly living costs along with the cost of student loan payments. ROC addresses this information gap.

Project Activities: During Phase I in 2019, the team developed a prototype for prospective students to explore future career options in a designated geographic area, view recommended programs of study for selected careers, view education institutions offering the recommended program of study, and to model the net price and potential lifetime return on investment of different career path and education pairings, personalized to the individual's profile. The prototype included a backend database to integrate multiple public data sets including IPEDS, College Scorecard, O*NET, the CIP to SOCID crosswalk, Bureau of Labor Statistics, and Census Bureau data. Each return on investment (ROI) calculation was personalized, including data such as a students' economic background, geographic location, residency, age, loan requirements, estimated time to graduate, career intent and college choice. The prototype augmented the publicly available data with proprietary labor market data from Burning Glass Technology to improve estimated income data by occupations down to the zip code.

At the end of Phase I, in a pilot study with 16 advisors representing 12 public high schools, the researchers tested the usability, feasibility, and accuracy of the prototype. Most users found the tool to be useful overall and that the personalized ROI calculation provided clear information. The data visualization chart was found to be less useful. Most participants indicated they would be likely to recommend it to a student today if it were a finalized product, and all test users provided valuable feedback for further improving ROC in Phase II.

In Phase II, the project team will refine the accuracy of the calculations and improve user experience. Using similar backend data and components as the current prototype, the team will also create a college version of ROC to support prospective students visiting a college's website to model net price, ROI, and career paths associated with different degrees options. After Phase II development is completed, researchers will conduct two pilot studies to continue to validate and improve usability, reliability, and validity with the objective of launching a fully functional product for public and commercial use. The first pilot will include students in grade 12 from 29 underserved high schools (urban/rural, low-income), with a subset of counselors introducing the tool as part of a college- and career-ready learning module taught across the schools. The researchers will compare pre- and post-test scores for students' understanding of healthy debt, average college prices, educational requirements for occupational goals. The second pilot will include a small number of universities that randomly incorporate ROC into their degree program pages to evaluate user interest, feedback, and changes in matriculation rates.

Product: At the end of Phase II, the researchers will launch Return on College (ROC). Two versions of ROC will be developed. Using ROC-A, students will be able to search colleges nationwide based on geographic location and occupational goals with personalized output on projected debt, loan repayment, disposable income, graduation risk, and ROI the focal points of these decisions. Using ROC-B, prospective students visiting a college website will receive data driven information on potential careers, salaries, price, and debt expected for degrees offered by a school.

Related IES Project: A User-Contextualized ROI Tool to Make Meaning of Lifetime Costs and Tradeoffs Associated with Different Degree Programs (91990019C0020)