By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN
(CNN) - After President Barack Obama announced last week the release of a "College Scorecard," there was a small explosion on Twitter and perhaps in the minds of college applicants deep in the weeds of school selection.
Isn't there enough of this already?
Is this going to do anything better?
Is this scorecard even a good idea?
The College Scorecard is not the same as U.S. News and World Report, Kiplingers, Fiske or most other college rankings and guides out there. It's not going to say if a school is among the 10 best anything, whether the students are cute or brilliant, if the dorms are swanky or if a school's mascot would win in a wrestling match - if you even believe rankings can reflect that.
During the State of the Union address, Obama said the College Scorecard would show "where you can get the most bang for your educational buck." It's a nod toward how tough it is to find a school and figure out how to pay for it. Its creators say it was built to reveal value, to show whether a school is worth the money - if you even believe numbers can reflect that.
It pulls together data already sprinkled around government reports and individual schools’ websites. It answers questions like, how much do students and their families pay? How much do students borrow? After all that, do students actually get degrees, and jobs?
Go to whitehouse.gov/scorecard, and type in the name of a school. Or scout one by location, area of interest or type of college, like distance education, campus setting or size. Click to choose one, and what comes back are graphics that depict the average net price: an estimate of the average amount it actually costs to attend, minus scholarships and grants.
Consider Occidental College in Los Angeles, the college young Obama attended after graduating high school in Hawaii. The College Scorecard says it costs $27,846 per year on average, which puts Oxy in the high-cost range. Families of its 2,125 students typically borrow $18,020 in federal loans for an undergrad to attend, and the loan payment would be about $207.37 per month over 10 years. The scorecard also says that about 83.5% of full-time Oxy students earned a bachelor’s degree within six years, and 12.8% transferred to another institution, like Obama, who went on to graduate from Columbia University in New York. There's a space on the scorecard to explain what types of jobs students get after graduation, but nothing is listed there. Sara Gast, a U.S. Department of Education press officer, said they expect to add the info within a year.
Any Oxy applicant is likely to notice the price. It's about $30,000 less than the price listed on Oxy’s website: $57,028 per year for tuition, room and board and fees. That "sticker price" could make potential students cross Oxy off the list immediately, even if they might qualify for tens of thousands in financial aid, even if the true, typical price is far lower. There's a sticker price, and then there's the price paid after deals are offered, negotiations attempted, loans approved and rewards claimed.
San Jose, California (CNN) - At 17 years old, Jessica Perez is an honor student who aspires to be the first member of her family to graduate from college.
But when it came to the application process, she felt lost, alone and ill-prepared.
"I didn't really know where to start," said Perez, who wants to be an astrophysicist. "There wasn't really anybody at home that could help me figure out how I could reach my dream."
Perez's grandparents, who raise Perez and her two siblings, both work long hours to make ends meet. And neither continued their education beyond elementary school.
Fortunately for Perez, she was directed by her school guidance counselor to a nonprofit called Strive for College.
"It helps students who don't really know anything about the college process," she said. "College students come to you and they tell you how to do it because they've been through it also."
Strive for College pairs high-school students with college students for free, one-on-one consultation over a yearlong period. Each pair works together through the application process for colleges, scholarships and financial aid.
Michael Carter's nonprofit has already helped 600 low-income students enter four-year colleges and universities.
"We take them through every little step of the process, because, frankly, it's a pretty detailed process - and if you miss one step, you could ruin all your chances," said Michael Carter, who founded the nonprofit in 2007 while he was a college freshman.
So far, Strive for College has already helped 600 low-income students across the country enter four-year colleges and universities. And it expects to help an additional 900 this year.