About UCAN

Common Questions


What is UCAN?
UCAN is a Web-based resource designed to offer students and families concise, consumer-friendly information on private, nonprofit colleges and universities in a common format. UCAN was developed and is managed by the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU).

UCAN includes information identified by prospective college students, parents, and policymakers as crucial to making a smart college choice and important for institutional transparency and accountability. It was the first national consumer information tool developed by colleges and universities themselves. For the first time, hundreds of colleges and universities across the nation are actively collecting and providing consumer information directly to the public in one central location.

How many colleges participate?
More than 850 nonprofit, private colleges and universities from 43 states have signed up to participate in UCAN. See our UCAN By the Numbers section for more statistics about the initiative.

What does UCAN offer?
UCAN helps to make the college selection process more holistic, and more responsive to the interests and priorities of the individual student and their family. The college and university profiles provide key statistical data complemented by narrative descriptions and subject-specific links to relevant campus Web pages. Together, this quantitative and qualitative information gives consumers an opportunity to see what sets each college or university apart in nature, mission, and academic and student life features.

The in-depth information in the college and university profiles covers admissions, enrollment, academics, student demographics, graduation rates, most common fields of study, transfer of credit policy, accreditation, faculty information, class size, tuition and fee trends, price of attendance, financial aid, campus housing, student life, and campus safety.

UCAN also offers consumers easy access to institution-specific information on net tuition, average loan debt at graduation, and undergraduate class-size for hundreds of colleges. This information, which comes from the U.S. Department of Education's IPEDS survey and the Common Data Set, is often difficult for consumers to find and decipher.

Is UCAN free?
Yes. All the information on the Web site is available to the public at no cost. There is also no charge for institutions to participate. A nonprofit effort, UCAN does not accept advertising or sponsorships.

Does UCAN have profiles for both private and public institutions?
UCAN only provides profiles of private, nonprofit colleges and universities. (Institutions do not have to be NAICU members to participate.) A parallel initiative, College Portrait, provides similar consumer information on public colleges and universities. It is sponsored by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU). A similar effort for two-year colleges, the Voluntary Framework of Accountability, is under development by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC).

Why was UCAN created?
During the past decade consumers, Congress, and the U.S. Department of Education increasingly called on colleges and universities to prepare and disseminate more consumer-friendly information individuals might use to evaluate colleges - a goal that NAICU strongly supports. Today, that interest in more accessible and useful consumer information has only grown.

College is a substantial investment, and the nation's students and families deserve concise, accurate information to help them make good decisions. UCAN offers consumers the most useful information about institutions, reports it in a consumer friendly way - in a common format and single location - and charges nothing for the public to see it.

Although there are other third-party sources of college information, many are overly complex and difficult to use, while others fail to be appropriately comprehensive. Focus groups with consumers and conversations with policymakers led NAICU to believe that more could be done to help students and parents choose the college that is the best fit. UCAN goes beyond simplistic rankings in helping each student find the institution that is right for him or her.

What determined UCAN's content and format?
UCAN is oriented toward the interests of prospective college students and their families, as determined through consumer research. The types of information collected and the design of the college and university profiles were shaped by focus groups held across the nation with students and parents from diverse backgrounds. Feedback collected through follow-up consumer focus groups, site user surveys, and other means help us continue to refine the information offered. 

Does UCAN rank institutions?
No. UCAN does not rank or rate colleges and universities. Rather, the UCAN profiles are a convenient way for students and families to compare institutions using a standard format. UCAN's ease of use, when combined with the depth of information presented in each profile, allows users to decide for themselves which college best meets their interests and needs.

Was UCAN developed to compete with the U.S. News & World Report rankings?
No. UCAN was created in response to public demand for comparable, concise, relevant, and easily accessible information, not as a replacement for U.S. News or any other consumer information tool. NAICU does not take a position on the use of U.S. News rankings in choosing a college.

How is UCAN different from U.S. News & World Report's "Best Colleges" and other commercial college-search websites and publications?
UCAN offers the following unique mix:
  • The type of information collected and the design of the college and university profiles were shaped by the focus groups with students and parents. UCAN collects the information of most use to college seekers from participating institutions, and then reports it in a reader-friendly format.
  • The profiles are highly "clickable." More than two dozen targeted hyperlinks take students to specific pages of an institution's website. The links and narrative descriptions complement the profile's statistical data, and provide an opportunity to see what makes each college or university unique.
  • UCAN is free. There is no cost to consumers to access the profiles, and no charge for colleges to participate. UCAN is nonproft and accepts no advertising or sponsorships.
How does UCAN differ from the U.S. Department of Education's College Navigator?
UCAN and College Navigator provide similar search options and institutional data points. UCAN only includes private, nonprofit colleges, while College Navigator includes private, public and for-profit colleges and universities. College Navigator is more data-intense, while UCAN offers a simplified, visually-appealing design. Its colorful charts and graphs allow for quick comparisons between institutions, and allow users to get to the information they need more easily. UCAN also provides links to targeted sections of college websites, where users can find additional institution-specific information.

How does UCAN differ from the "College Portrait" information?
Actually the two services are quite similar. College Portrait requires participating colleges to provide student learning outcomes, and specifies which measures institutions must use. While outcome measures that institutions find significant can be included in their profiles, UCAN does not specify those measures.

Why doesn't the UCAN template include learning outcomes measures?
NAICU believes there is no single learning outcomes measure - or set of measures - broad-based enough to be used across all of the types of institutions and the academic fields of study that comprise private nonprofit higher education. This makes it impossible to provide outcomes data with the kind of comparability that is the bedrock of UCAN. We do, however, encourage UCAN institutions to provide consumers with appropriate assessment, outcomes, and success measures through links to that sort of information on their institutional Web pages.

How often is the site content updated?
Data provided by participating colleges and universities are updated annually. The most recent update was completed in February 2015. The next update will began in December 2015 with all profiles updated and posted to the UCAN site in late February 2016.

How is UCAN data standardized across institutions?
Since it is important to have comparability across UCAN profiles, participating institutions are asked to follow guidelines regarding the specific year and source for data elements. When consumers compare UCAN profiles for various institutions, it is critical that they be able to view data from the same year. By clicking on the "?" buttons throughout an institution's profile, consumers can view drop-down boxes with details on the data sources used. An extensive and detailed set of directions for institutions' use in entering their data also helps assure comparability.

Can a tool like UCAN, developed by colleges and universities, be trusted to provide consumers with objective and honest information?
If consumers, Congress, and the administration were to decide that the information on UCAN is self-serving and of little value, the likely alternative well might be new federal reporting mandates. It is in the enlightened self-interest of colleges and universities to provide accurate information. Among the statistics reported on UCAN are list price, five-year tuition trends, and average loan debt at graduation - figures that, at their best, are hardly self-serving.

How does UCAN get noticed in a world filled with well-financed, well-marketed college selection resources?
Some 2.6 million individuals have visited the UCAN site through early 2015. NAICU coordinates an ambitious and ongoing grassroots communication effort that encourages participating institutions to reach out to local high schools, parents, news media, and community groups. UCAN is also visible through online media, including targeted ads on Google and Facebook, and a presence on Wikipedia and social network sites. Basically, we've harnessed the very powerful communications tool of word-of-mouth. As those who visit the UCAN site find it useful, they tell others, and traffic to the site continues to grow.