Bipartisan Bill Aims to Improve Postsecondary Data

Rachel Zinn
May 15, 2017

Update: The day after Senate introduction, Representatives Mitchell (R-MI), Polis (D-CO), Garrett (R-VA), Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), Stivers (R-OH), Panetta (D-CA), Dunn (R-FL), and Upton (R-MI) introduced the bill in the House.

In a bipartisan effort, four members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee today introduced a bill to help students, policymakers, educators, and employers make informed decisions about postsecondary education. 

Senators Hatch (R-UT), Warren (D-MA), Cassidy (R-LA), and Whitehouse (D-RI), are sponsoring the College Transparency Act. The bill would create a postsecondary student data system at the U.S. Department of Education, in order to publicize aggregate information about completion rates, debt repayment, and employment outcomes for postsecondary programs.

WDQC supports the bill — along with our parent organization, the National Skills Coalition — and other national groups including the Institute for Higher Education Policy, New America, and Young Invincibles. 

The Act builds on the Student Right To Know Before You Go Act, a bill introduced in both the House and Senate in previous years by bipartisan co-sponsors, including Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Mark Warner (D-VA), and Representatives Duncan Hunter (R-CA), Mia Love (R-UT), and Susan Davis (D-CA). WDQC has advocated for that legislation, so we are excited to see its main features echoed in the new proposal by Senate committee members. 

The College Transparency Act would revise the Higher Education Act (HEA) to create a postsecondary data system that would: 

  • Protect student privacy and adhere to best practices in data security
  • Empower all students to make more informed choices about where to spend their precious time and money
  • Better steward taxpayer dollars
  • Align education with labor market demand and help employers identify programs that are effectively preparing students for the workforce
  • Only be used to help and never to harm students
  • Reduce reporting burden for colleges and universities by replacing the student components of the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), including for students who do not receive Title IV aid

Right now, the HEA prohibits the Department of Education from collecting data on all postsecondary students. The Department's existing College Scorecard only includes students receiving federal aid in the calculation of key metrics, like post-college earnings. This presents an incomplete and potentially misleading picture of how well postsecondary programs are serving students.

The Act would overturn the HEA prohibition, creating a data system that would help students and families choose programs that demonstrate strong outcomes, and assist policymakers and educators in implementing policies and practices that help more students succeed. For the marketplace to function effectively, all these stakeholders need access to high-quality information that reflects all types of students, and can look at outcomes across state lines and between institutions as students transfer. The federal government — with its access to existing data, including employment and earnings — is uniquely positioned to compile that information, while alleviating institutional reporting burden.

Protecting students’ privacy is a focus of the Act. It includes protections that limit data disclosures, prohibit the sale of data, penalize illegal data use, prohibit use of the data for law enforcement, and safeguard personably identifiable information.

WDQC will work with the Postsecondary Data Collaborative on outreach to our networks to express support for the Act, with the goal of making a postsecondary student data system a central part of ongoing discussions on HEA reauthorization.

Artwork courtesy of Third Way