House Passes Data Transparency Bill

Rachel Zinn
July 12, 2016

The House passed legislation yesterday that requires the U.S. Department of Education to publish a College Dashboard with information about postsecondary institutions. Data points would include net price, graduation rates, and "a link to national and regional data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics on starting salaries in all major occupations."

The Strengthening Transparency in Higher Education Act (H.R. 3178) is almost identical to a bill passed by the House in 2014 during the last Congressional session, when it was not taken up by the Senate. It is unlikely that the Senate will consider the bill this year either.

The legislation, introduced by Reps. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Luke Messer (R-IN) and Gregorio Sablan (D-MP), is intended to replace the College Navigator website with a dashboard showing a limited set of important metrics to help students choose a college. It would improve currently available data by requiring graduation rates and other metrics to include all students, rather than only "first-time" students. This change is critical to capture success measures for transfer students and older students who are returning to school. 

In addition, the College Dashboard would include more information about the success rates of target student populations, including those who attend part-time, receive a Pell Grant, have a disability, or receive veteran’s benefits.

WDQC appreciates the required link to data about salaries, which may assist students in selecting careers and making informed decisions about taking on debt. However, the information provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics is not available for particular institutions or programs, so it cannot help students pick a school or decide what to study.

In contrast, the bipartisan Student Right to Know Before You Go Act would allow for the creation of a federal data system to calculate average earnings by school and program. WDQC endorses this bill, which has been introduced in both the House and Senate.

The data transparency bill passed the House along with four other pieces of higher education legislation, including bills to simplify application for federal student aid and improve financial counseling for aid recipients. The House is working on a series of postsecondary reform bills rather than developing a full draft of Higher Education Act reauthorization.