Baby Steps on ‘Unit Records’ in House

"The massive Higher Education Act bill that the House of Representatives education committee will begin debating today got a slight revision Monday, as the panel's Republican leaders offered a modest nod to greater transparency about student outcomes," Inside Higher Ed reports. 

"But advocates for a federal student-level data system say the additional language, part of a package of changes to the original bill text known as a manager's amendment, just kicks the can down the road on resolving transparency questions.

The new language would direct the U.S. secretary of education within two years to study the feasibility of having the National Student Clearinghouse, a private nonprofit entity, set up a third-party data system for analysis of institution- and program-level student outcomes. A bipartisan bill introduced this summer would direct the National Center for Education Statistics, the Education Department's research arm, to connect existing data maintained by several agencies for purposes of tracking, on a program-by-program level, issues such as graduates' employment prospects, earnings and typical student debt loads.

Higher ed research groups have argued that the data system would allow them to answer questions such as why students transfer and to examine how colleges and universities can better close equity gaps between demographic groups.

Representative Virginia Foxx, the Republican chairwoman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, has long opposed a federal student unit record system, citing concerns over privacy and data security. She wrote a ban on a federal data system in 2008, which the initial language of her Higher Education Act update, known as the PROSPER Act, recommended sustaining.

Ahead of a markup of the bill in committee today, Foxx said she continues to have "a lot of concerns with privacy" involving a federal student-level data system.

'We're going to have the clearinghouse look at the feasibility of what some people want to do,' she said.

While Republicans have periodically offered the clearinghouse as a potential solution to greater transparency, data advocates say it wouldn't address many of the questions potentially answered by a federal data system because it doesn't track the income of graduates. And they say it doesn't have the standards of a federal agency for maintaining publicly accessible data."


Publication Date: 12/12/2017

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