Senate Considers Postsecondary Data

by Rachel Zinn
March 24, 2015

Sen. Lamar Alexander, Republican chairman of the Senate education and labor committee, yesterday released three concept papers on aspects of Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization, including postsecondary data policy.

The data paper calls for more usable data to help students and families select colleges. It notes that a top reason that students attend college is to get a better job, but there is no reliable federal data on post-college salaries. 

Several options for improving consumer information on employment outcomes are outlined in the paper.

Two would use administrative data linkages to match student records with wage information already collected by federal agencies. In one option, earnings would be calculated only for students receiving federal financial aid. In the other, a federal unit record system would capture information on all students. A comprehensive federal student record system is currently prohibited by HEA.

The paper also identifies alternatives (or supplements) to using administrative data: conducting a new survey to collect information on post-graduation careers and/or using existing Bureau of Labor Statistics data to provide average regional salaries for different occupations.

Sen. Alexander is requesting public comments by April 24. WDQC will coordinate with multiple partners, including the PostSec Data Collaborative, to provide feedback and express support for improved availability of actionable data for consumers on graduates’ success in the labor market.

The House addressed postsecondary data policy last year, passing the Strengthening Transparency in Higher Education Act in July. The only employment outcome information offered to students under the bill is occupations’ average salaries from Bureau of Labor Statistics. There is no provision to provide employment outcomes for particular schools or programs.