Comprehensive, accurate data on student outcomes at each college and university in the U.S. are considerably lacking. We simply do not know enough. As a result, students and families are left in the dark as they make the critical decision about which college or university to attend; policymakers struggle to appropriately hold accountable institutions receiving taxpayer dollars; and institutions lack the information they need to assess their performance and improve. Congress should include the College Transparency Act, H.R. 2434/S. 1121, within HEA reauthorization to fix the problem.
While the U.S. Department of Education’s revamped College Scorecard provides salary information, the data is not very useful and can be misleading. The Scorecard provides one aggregate salary figure for each institution, and in some cases aggregated across an entire campus system, rather than breaking out the data by academic program. Further confusing the matter, the aggregate salary figure averages the earnings of individuals who earn a degree with those individuals who left without a degree – bringing down the average and obfuscating the economic benefits of earning a college degree.
Student-level data is also needed to provide accurate persistence and graduation rates for postsecondary students. Because of the prohibition against student-level data, the federal government is unable to reliably and consistently report the outcomes of students after they transfer and has only recently added minimal reporting for part-time students. This is a huge problem since nearly 55 percent of those who earn a bachelor’s degree attend more than one institution and over 60 percent of students at community colleges attend part-time. Those students are not counted and most people looking at the College Scorecard and other transparency sites have no idea that the data is so incomplete. Only 47 percent of postsecondary students meet the “first-time, full-time” criteria of the federal graduation rate.
APLU was deeply engaged in the development of The College Transparency Act (CTA), H.R. 2434/S. 1121. CTA appropriately balances concerns about privacy and security while providing the key information needed by students and families, policymakers, and institutions. APLU strongly urges Congress to include CTA within HEA reauthorization.
Student Achievement Measure: As the federal graduation rate is often used as an indicator of student success and institutional performance, there is a lack of comprehensive and accurate information for prospective students and their families, for policymakers, and for institutions themselves. The Student Achievement Measure (SAM) is a voluntary initiative that helps to fill the information gap by providing a set of progress and completion outcomes for full-time, part-time, and transfer-in students who attend one institution or multiple institutions. Developed as a cross-sector initiative in 2013, the SAM project is as collaboration among six higher education associations and is led by APLU and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU). SAM currently has more than 600 participating institutions that represent 38 percent of the undergraduate enrollment in the United States. The SAM metrics are an effective short-term solution that provides helpful information to consumers, policymakers, and institutions. However, the larger challenge remains – lifting the ban on the collection of student-level data so that more accurate and comprehensive outcomes measures (like the SAM metrics) could replace the current federal graduation rate and be used for all institutions.