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Web site offers 'portraits' of colleges

A new Web site will give students and the public easy access to information about universities.

The site compiles information such as graduation rates, cost of attendance and student-faculty ratios for public four-year universities.

Minnesota State University Moorhead and North Dakota State University are among the 302 universities participating.

MSUM President Edna Szymanski said the site is a better source of information than the U.S. News and World Report rankings, which she said can be misleading and manipulated by the colleges.

The new source -- called the Voluntary System of Accountability -- is a consumer's guide to choosing a university, she said.

"It's the right effort to make higher education more transparent to the public and to make it more transparent to prospective students and their parents," Szymanski said.

Each university has a five-page "college portrait" that shows the most popular majors, the percentage of students who get financial aid and student learning outcomes.

It also gives information about campus security, diversity and campus housing.

Susan Deichert, a career resource educator at Fargo South High School, said the site will be a good tool for students who are accustomed to using the Web to research and apply to colleges.

"The days of writing to a college, requesting material, and waiting for it to arrive in the mail are a thing of the past," Deichert said.

NDSU Provost Craig Schnell said the new system is a great way for universities to be accountable, but he questions how much students will use it when they choose a college.

"I think students actually pick where they want to go to school based on reputation and what programs are offered," Schnell said.

In North Dakota, Valley City State University and Minot State University are participating in the site.

The University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and all state universities in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system also are participating.

The Voluntary System of Accountability is a partnership between the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.