Bipartisan Group of Senators Push to End Student Unit Record Ban

By Allie Bidwell, Communications Staff

A bipartisan group of senators on Monday announced their intent to put an end to the federal ban on collecting student-level data, while also pledging to protect the privacy of individual students.

Due to a provision slipped into the Higher Education Opportunity Act in 2008 – the most recent reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) – the federal government is prohibited from collecting student-level data. That means things students and parents might like to know – such as earnings after graduation, the graduation rates of transfer students, and the debt-to-earnings ratios for particular programs or majors – are out of reach.

The College Transparency Act of 2017 was introduced by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). The bill also calls for an updated data reporting system for colleges to submit their student-level data, and charges the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) with storing the information, working with other agencies to develop reports on student outcomes, and making the data publicly available for students and families.

"When students are deciding which college to attend, they need access to the most reliable information," Hatch said in a statement. "Unfortunately, the current college reporting system does not reflect the realities of today's students, and it leaves many critical questions unanswered."

Several higher education groups – including NASFAA, the Association of Community Colleges (AACC), the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), The United States Chamber of Commerce, Rebuilding America's Middle Class (RAMC) a Coalition of Community Colleges, The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS), Third Way, Veterans Education Success (VES), Workforce Data Quality Campaign, and Young Invincibles – have expressed their support for the new bill.

"The direct benefits of better data for students and families are abundantly clear. Students rightfully will get complete answers to fundamental questions such as how likely students are to graduate and what kind of employment outcomes they should expect," said Peter McPherson, president of APLU, in a statement. "Colleges and universities need this data too. … Many institutional efforts would be greatly improved by having access to much more comprehensive data, including information on outcomes that occur beyond state boundaries."

The bill also addresses some concerns others have expressed with lifting the ban. The bill’s authors claim it will reduce administrative burden, for example, by changing the way institutions report data, and by modernizing the system. It also prohibits using the data for a federal rating system of postsecondary institutions – a proposal from the Obama administration that received mixed reactions from institutions and higher education organizations.

"College administrators tell me they spend too much of their time and resources on federal data reporting mandates. At the same time, Rhode Islanders tell me they often can't find useful information to help them figure out where to go to college. They can't even get answers to basic questions like what they'll earn with a given major, what sort of student loan debt they'll carry, and whether or not a community college gives them a reasonable shot at transferring to four-year school," Whitehouse said in a statement. "The College Transparency Act works to fix these problems by easing the burden on schools, gathering more useful information, and putting it at students and parents' fingertips."

The new bill adds to a growing list of bipartisan support for overturning the ban. The Student Right to Know Before You Go Act, which would require lifting the ban, has bipartisan and bicameral support, and organizations including NASFAA have also recommended that Congress – with certain parameters – lift the ban on a student unit record system. Students, too, have joined in the calls to lift the ban.

"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," Cassidy said in a statement. "Students should be as well-informed as possible."

 

Publication Date: 5/16/2017


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