Looking to earn the big bucks after graduating from a Maine college? Check out Maine Maritime Academy, whose alumni earn a median of $74,700 a year 10 years after they enrolled.

Comparing graduation rates at Maine’s largest public universities? The University of Maine tops the list with 57 percent, compared with 56 percent at UMaine Farmington and 32 percent at the University of Southern Maine.

Would-be college students and their families grappling with one of the most important – and most expensive – decisions in their lives have access to new tools and detailed information about schools on a “college scorecard” website just launched by the federal government.

A college guidance counselor at Casco Bay High school said the site was useful, but should only be considered as one tool among many, and that any serious search should be done with a school counselor.

“It’s a good tool for certain purposes,” said Michael Hale, the director of college, career and citizenship at Casco Bay High School. “It’s definitely going to help students get a basic sense of schools.”

He thought it was “very helpful” for students looking to find a particular academic program in a particular geographic area – say, studying engineering in the Pacific Northwest. The site allows users to filter their search by state, or within a certain radius of a location.

President Obama unveiled the website over the weekend, in the midst of a vigorous national debate over soaring college costs and concerns over student loan debt reaching $1.3 trillion nationwide.

For the first time, students can see future earnings for graduates, albeit only for those who received federal loans, and what percentage of graduates started paying back student loans three years after graduating. It also details the percent of former graduates earning more than a high school graduate.

“Everyone should be able to find clear, reliable, open data on college affordability and value,” the president said in his weekly radio address. “Many existing college rankings reward schools for spending more money and rejecting more students, at a time when America needs our colleges to focus on affordability and supporting all students who enroll.”

Much of the data on collegescorecard.ed.gov was previously available, but is presented in an easy-to-search format with highlighted graphics that emphasize future earnings and college costs. It has both short- and long-term earnings data, with one set showing the percentage of students earning more than the average high school graduate ($25,000 a year) six years after starting the school, and the other showing the median earnings of students 10 years after entering the school.

It also clearly spells out average annual cost based on family income.

The administration had planned to introduce a new college ranking system based on affordability and return on investment, but dropped the idea after critics said it would be arbitrary and unfair, or an example of government overreach.

The new site has limitations, mainly that the earnings data – what a graduate is earning 10 years after enrolling – only apply to students who had federal loans or aid. The data also combines all graduates into an average, so future earnings data don’t distinguish between a philosophy graduate and a physicist.

In another weakness, it also captures only federal student loan debt, which maxes out at $27,000, and doesn’t capture federal Parent Plus Loans for families or graduate students, or any private loans. So while student loan debt may appear the same at a public university and a more expensive private college, it’s just because the data doesn’t show all forms of student loan debt.

Like many college cost calculators or websites catering to customized searches for individual students, the site narrows and hones the vast amount of data according to certain student information.

U.S. Sen. Angus King said the scorecard was “a step in the right direction toward arming us with improved, accessible data that can help students and their families.”

“With student debt topping the $1.2 trillion mark, the time is long overdue to provide students and families with better information about college performance, including which schools graduate students who succeed in the workforce and which schools leave students saddled with large amounts of debt and no degree,” Maine’s independent senator said in a statement Tuesday. “While I welcome this step, more needs to be done – and it’s up to Congress to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, which will provide the opportunity to enact broader reforms to our federal student aid system and ensure that colleges keep their prices affordable for middle class families.”

A typical scorecard search on financial elements would be for post-graduation earnings, annual cost and average debt of graduates.

Among Maine’s four-year colleges, Maine Maritime Academy showed the greatest long-term post-graduate earnings after 10 years, at $74,700, with an average annual cost of $19,687 and an average student loan debt of $27,000.

By comparison, the lowest post-graduate earnings of $23,700 were at Maine Academy of Art, where the annual cost is $29,009 and the average student loan debt is $27,000.

The University of Maine at Orono, the flagship of the state’s seven-campus system, showed post-graduate earnings of $38,700, with an average annual cost of $16,831 and student debt of $27,000. Southern Maine Community College students had post-graduate earnings of $37,300, with an average annual cost of $11,395 and student debt of $12,500.

“Earnings are not the only reason – or in some cases, even the primary reason – that most students enroll in college,” the department wrote in a paper describing the site. “It is important for students to be able to evaluate whether or not the cost of an institution is worth the investment, including possible student debt.”

Obama has launched several college affordability initiatives, including a plan to make community college free for students using state and federal subsidies, which Congress has taken up in a bill.

Last year, Obama signed legislation cutting interest rates on some federal student loans, tying the rates to the 10-year U.S. Treasury note, creating interest-rate ceilings and locking in rates for the lifetime of a loan. He also signed an executive order to expand a program that lets borrowers pay no more than 10 percent of their income every month for 20 years. After that, the balance is forgiven, but the borrower must pay taxes on the amount forgiven.

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