Monday, U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), introduced legislation to modernize the college reporting system for postsecondary data in order to provide greater transparency for students, families, institutions, and policymakers.

The College Transparency Act of 2017 will provide actionable and customizable information for students and families as they consider higher education opportunities by accurately reporting on student outcomes such as enrollment, completion, and post-college success across colleges and majors, while ensuring the privacy of individual students is securely protected. Most importantly, this information will tell students how others with their backgrounds have succeeded at an institution, and help point them towards schools best suited to their unique needs and desired outcomes.
The current college reporting system is overly burdensome on institutions, yet provides little practical information for students and families due to significant gaps in college data reporting. Under the updated system, institutions would securely report privacy-protected, student-level data to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). NCES would be responsible for securely storing student information, working with relevant federal agencies to generate post-college outcomes reports, and presenting the summary information on a user-friendly website for students and families.
“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,” said Dr. Cassidy. “Students should be as well-informed as possible.”

“When students are deciding which college to attend, they need access to the most reliable information,” Senator Hatch said. “Unfortunately, the current college reporting system does not reflect the realities of today's students, and it leaves many critical questions unanswered. My bill will resolve the shortcomings of the current reporting system so that students can make the most informed decisions about their future education.”

“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,” said Senator Warren. “The College Transparency Act will patch up the big gaps in college data transparency and finally provide students, families, and policymakers with an accurate picture of how colleges are serving today's students.”

“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,” said Senator Whitehouse. “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.”

Education leaders submitted the following statements in support of the College Transparency Act of 2017:

“It is unthinkable that today’s families have more resources available to help them evaluate cars and consumer electronics, which are only expected to last a matter of years, than to help determine which college or university is the best fit for them. Higher education is the investment of a lifetime and should be treated as such. The authors, including our own Sen. Bill Cassidy, should be commended for opening the door to a better higher education system,” said Dr. King Alexander, President of Louisiana State University.

“Thanks to Senator Hatch and his colleagues, particularly Senator Bill Cassidy, for their leadership in offering the College Transparency Act of 2017. While we recognize the importance of protecting personal information, we know that our students require more facts as they are making critical college and career decisions. The bill presents a timely opportunity to have an important policy discussion to advance higher education and more importantly, the success of our students. As proposed, the bill will also allow for data collection and metrics that recognize the important distinctions between the multiple missions across higher education, specifically the mission of community and technical colleges,” said Monty Sullivan, president of Louisiana Community and Technical College System.

“We are fortunate that Senator Cassidy has been focused on the importance of relevant higher education pathways for the citizens of our state and beyond. With the College Transparency Act of 2017 students will be able to clearly see which degrees and certificates will lead them to high-wage/high-demand jobs,” said Dr. Natalie Harder, chancellor of South Louisiana Community College.

“Public universities commend Senators Hatch, Warren, Cassidy, and Whitehouse for championing students and families' need for better information on higher education,” said Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, which has long been focused on improving higher education data. “As a result of a ban on student-level data in the Higher Education Act, the federal government has presented students and their families with grossly incomplete information about graduation rates, employment outcomes, and other key information on how students fare at individual institutions. This legislation would finally lift the federally-imposed curtain on comprehensive higher education outcomes data and enable students to make better informed decisions.”
“The College Transparency Act announced today seeks to lift the veil on postsecondary student outcomes and will empower students, college leaders and policymakers with the information they need to make better-informed decisions. IHEP applauds Sens. Hatch, Warren, Cassidy and Whitehouse for presenting a bipartisan framework that will help paint a clear picture of the postsecondary landscape in our country,” said Mamie Voight, Vice President of Policy Research, Institute for Higher Education Policy.

“Repealing the federal student unit record ban is extremely important to community colleges. Presently, the measures around student success are antiquated and do not reflect the actual enrollment behavior of current college students. Establishing a student unit record will reduce the burden of data collection for institutions and facilitate an accurate picture of student outcomes and earnings for all community college students,” said Association of Community College Trustees President and CEO J. Noah Brown. “We commend Senators Hatch, Warren, Cassidy, and Whitehouse for the introduction of The College Transparency Act of 2017.”

“A student centric education system requires informed decision making by students. Today's data provides only a partial picture of the higher education system by counting only first-time, full-time students and those receiving federal aid - leaving the majority of students in the shadows. A student unit record system is necessary to provide an accurate portrayal of all students and to better understand student learning and employment outcomes,”said Mark MacCarthy, Senior Vice President for Public Policy, of the Software & Information Industry Association.

“Based on recent research, the value of the Post-9/11 GI Bill is clear, as student veterans across the country succeed at rates higher than traditional students. Yet, determining these outcomes is currently a significant effort and not easily accomplished without abundant resources,” said Dr. Chris Cate, Vice President of Research at Student Veterans of America. “Basing policy on research and data is imperative, and it shouldn't take as much effort as it does today, as we have the answer to this challenge staring us in the face.”

This legislation is also supported by, the Association of Community Colleges (AACC), The United States Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA), 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.

The College Transparency Act joins other bipartisan proposals in the United States Senate to address weaknesses in higher education data, including the Student Right to Know Before You Go Act of 2015, led by Senators Wyden, Rubio, and Warner.

Contributed Report