Bipartisan Bill Proposes Transparency

In May, bipartisan members of Congress in both the Senate and House of Representatives introduced a bill that would increase transparency on higher education outcomes. According to bill sponsors The College Transparency Act of 2017 will make information available to help students make decisions about what colleges are best for them and what majors will give them the best opportunities for employment and career satisfaction.

The bill proposes to make information available about student enrollment, retention, completion and post-college outcomes across different majors. Current graduation information isn’t necessarily appropriate to today’s nontraditional students. The Department of Education reports only completion data for first-time, full-time students.

Today however, 40 percent of students attend more than one school before graduating and about two-thirds of them attend school part-time. This is especially true for nontraditional students who are often supporting a family, holding down a full-time job and finishing a program they previously started. Non-traditional students need information about other students like them, not just information about younger traditional students.

Opponents of College Transparency Act of 2017 particularly worry about the privacy of student data or how this information collected in a federal system could be used. The bill calls for the National Center for Education Statistics to develop a secure system, includes a ban on the sale of data, limits personally identifiable information and prohibits access by law enforcement.

Whether the major concern is data transparency or privacy, one point that is very clear with the introduction of this bill is that both sides of the political spectrum recognize how important it is for students to complete higher education.

Congressional comments include:
Sen. Dr. Bill Cassidy (R-LA): “Choosing where to go to college is a life changing decision. If it is a good one, it will set the stage for success and if a bad one, it will saddle students with unmanageable debt. “Students should be as well-informed as possible.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA): “Going to college opened up a million doors for me, but I wasn’t a traditional student – I dropped out, got married, then found a commuter college hundreds of miles away from where I’d started. The way colleges and the federal government currently report student outcomes data would have left me out of the picture.”

Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO): “Education is the single best investment a person can make in today’s economy. Students should be empowered to make the decision that’s best for them, and that starts with having accurate, credible and accessible information at hand.”

Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-MI): “It has long been a priority of mine to ensure students and families have the necessary tools to make informed decisions about their future. As soon as I assumed office, I began working on legislation to increase transparency to enable students to make decisions that will put them on the path to success.”

Higher education policies and legislation impact all stakeholders, from individual students to the U.S. economy as a whole. Transparency in higher education data can help students make decisions that lead to successful completion. Academic counseling and employer-outlined career paths can also help students move toward completion that benefits all. The College Board report Education Pays 2016 states, “The economic benefits of increases in postsecondary attainment extend far beyond the individuals who earn credentials. A more productive economy generates a higher standard of living overall. The higher earnings of educated workers generate higher tax payments at the local, state, and federal levels.”