Washington, DC – Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) President Peter McPherson today released the following statement regarding the introduction of bipartisan legislation in the U.S. Senate that would lift the federal ban on student-level data to provide students and families more information on higher education outcomes. U.S. Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), who are all on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, introduced the measure known as the College Transparency Act. APLU worked closely with the senators’ offices to develop the measure in order to increase transparency on higher education outcomes.
“APLU commends Senators Hatch, Warren, Cassidy, and Whitehouse for championing students and families’ need for better information on higher education. As a result of a ban on student-level data in the Higher Education Act, the federal government has presented students and their families with grossly incomplete information about graduation rates, employment outcomes, and other key information on how students fare at individual institutions. This legislation would finally lift the federally-imposed curtain on comprehensive higher education outcomes data and enable students to make better informed decisions.
“One of the most egregious examples of how the current data ban leads to misleading information for students and their families is the federal graduation rate, which only includes students who start and finish at their first institution and attend full-time. More than half of those who earn a bachelor’s degree transfer at some point while 60 percent of students at community colleges attend part-time. Yet these students are not counted as part of the federal graduation rate. In fact, full-time students who transfer from their first institution and then graduate are actually counted as dropouts from their original school and aren’t counted at all at the school to which they transferred. This bill would fix that.
“The salary information that the U.S. Department of Education reports is another example of extremely misleading information. The department reports one figure for an entire institution, failing to account for significant differences among students in different majors. The salary data also includes outcomes for dropouts as well as graduates, obscuring the benefits of earning a degree, and presenting students and their families with misleading data on how graduates fare in the job market. It also only includes those who receive Department of Education financial aid.
“The direct benefits of better data for students and families are abundantly clear. Students rightfully will get complete answers to fundamental questions such as how likely students are to graduate and what kind of employment outcomes they should expect. Colleges and universities need this data too. APLU and the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) recently released a series of 14 case studies of how higher education institutions drive progress on campus using student-level data. Many institutional efforts would be greatly improved by having access to much more comprehensive data, including information on outcomes that occur beyond state boundaries.
“The present federal data misrepresents fractions of fractions as being complete information. This is wholly inadequate for the needs of students looking to make informed decisions. Students deserve better. APLU will strongly advocate for passage of this legislation.”