(TNS) -- What information does a family need when making a decision about where to send a child to college?

Colleges themselves are happy to provide information about degree programs, faculty-to-staff ratios, study abroad opportunities and other aspects that generally cast an institution in a positive light.

Organizations such as U.S. News & World Report, and the Princeton Review, have for years compiled ratings and rankings that stack up schools in a dizzying array of lists and categories, including acceptance rates, total enrollment, freshman retention rate and more.

But much of the U.S. News & World Report list is limited to subscribers, making it inaccessible except for those willing to pay the subscription fee. And the Princeton Review information is broken down into so many different categories that it isn’t always easy to put two college side-by-side.

Up until recently, there really was no “go-to” source for simple financial information about college costs.

Enter the College Scorecard, a project of the U.S. Department of Education.

The website provides a snapshot of what students of each university might earn based on tax records, how much debt they leave with, and what percentage can repay their loans.

Visitors can select multiple colleges and view their information side-by-side to see how they compare, or can look at lists of colleges sorted by various metrics such as cost.

The website is reasonably easy to use, and although it looks at only a narrow slice of information — data focused on the cost of college — it does still manage to function as a pretty robust tool.

Tara Winter, director of enrollment at the State University College of Agriculture and Technology at Cobleskill, called the College Scorecard a “solid tool” and said her school is “glad that the government has launched it.”

“It looks at fair parameters for college comparison, especially for those looking at traditional four-year liberal arts education,” Winter said.

But we join Winter and other local college officials in pointing out that the information provided in the Scorecard must be taken into context to be meaningful. For colleges that are not traditional, four-year institutions, the graduation rate and earnings potential figures seem to be skewed, making it difficult to compare, say, the State University College at Oneonta to the State University College of Agriculture and Technology at Cobleskill.

“The College Scorecard lists SUNY Cobleskill as a two-year institution,” Winter noted, “even though nearly half of our student body is seeking baccalaureate degrees.”

We echo Michael Tannenbaum, Hartwick College’s provost and vice president of academic affairs, who called the site “a good place to start a college search.” But we hope its apples-to-oranges comparisons will not cause worthwhile schools such as SUNY Cobleskill and SUNY Delhi to be overlooked.

©2015 The Daily Star (Oneonta, N.Y.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.