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Senate Bill Aims to Give College Hopefuls More Data on How Grads Fare

Four Senators have introduced a bill that would require colleges and universities to provide more information about their current students and graduates  including completion rates, cumulative student loan debt, and what they do after they graduate.

The College Transparency Act of 2017 would overturn a ban on tracking individual student-level data in higher education and would therefore allow for what's known as a "student-unit record." The legislation would also provide "actionable and customizable information" to prospective students and families, according to a summary of the bill. Earnings, employment, and other postcollegiate outcomes would be tracked "immediately" after leaving, and at regular intervals thereafter.

The legislation was introduced Monday by Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-La., Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I. Highlighting the need for accurate information on various issues, Hatch said in a statement that, "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." 

And Warren said in her own statement that, "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."

We wrote about the politics and policy of using data records based on individual students earlier this year in the context of the Higher Education Act. Crafting a new HEA is a top education priority for Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate education committee, and Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., the chairwoman of the House education committee. But getting rid of the ban on the student-unit record (as the bill proposes) could be a tough ask. Some federal lawmakers, including Foxx, don't like the student-unit record, and there are privacy concerns about creating records based on individual students. 

Here's a list of how colleges and universities would have to disaggregate postcollegiate outcomes, students' financial indicators, and other metrics, taken directly from the bill:

  • Enrollment status as a first-time student
  • Attendance intensity, whether full-time or part-time
  • Credential-seeking status, by credential level 
  • Race or ethnicity
  • Age intervals
  • Gender
  • Program of study (as applicable)
  • Military or veteran status (as determined based on receipt of veteran's education benefits)
  • Status as a postsecondary athlete
  • Federal Pell Grant recipient status

In addition, the College Transparency Act would create a federal database at the National Center for Education Statistics that prospective students could browse for information about outcomes at various institutions. It would also prohibit the sale of student data, place "strong limits" on personally identifiable information used in the NCES database, and institute a ban on any federally backed college rating or ranking system.

You can read a fact sheet about the bill below:

And read the full bill below:

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