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The College Transparency Act
By Tod Massa
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This week we saw the the College Transparency Act introduced in both chamber of Congress. It has bipartisan sponsorship in the Senate from Hatch (R-UT), Warren (D-MA), Cassidy (R-LA), and Whitehouse (D-RI). An identical bill also has bipartisan support in the House from Mitchell (R-MI), Polis (D-CO), Garrett (R-VA), Krisnamoorthi (D-IL), Stivers (R-OH), Panetta (D-CA), and Dunn (R-FL). So this bill looks to have legs, for awhile anyway. The usual voices are opposing the concept. You can read about that here.

The InsideHigherEd article linked above describes it as an effort "to overturn the a ban on the a federal data system that would track employment and graduation outcomes of college students." While it technically does that, the bill is described in its text as "a bill to establish a postsecondary student [emphasis mine] data system." Forget overturning the ban as the would only requiring deleting the line from existing statute. This bill would specifically create an IPEDS Unit Record System (IPEDS-UR) with specific features and limitations of use.

So what does the bill call for?

  • A secure, privacy-protected student data system;
  • Able to accurately evaluate student enrollment patters, progression, completion, and higher education costs and financial aid at the student leel;
  • Able to assist with transparency, institutional improvement, and analysis of federal aid programs;
  • Able to provide more accurate, complete, and customizable information to students and families;
  • Reducing the reporting burden on institutions of higher education;
  • Avoiding duplicated reporting in that all currently required reporting may be met by this system as appropriate.
And what does it prohibit?
  • Collection of health data, student discipline records or data, elementary or secondary education data, exact address, citizenship or national origin, course grades, individual entrance examination results, political affiliation, or religion.
  • Sale of data;
  • Use by any other federal agency not specifically authorized by this act;
  • Use by/for law enforcement, or debt collection;
  • Any use by the Secretary, the Department, or and Federal entity to establish any Federal ranking systems of postsecondary institutions or a system that results in a summative Federal ranking of postsecondary institutions.
So, in a very readable (unusual for a federal bill) 24 pages, we have pretty clear idea that all the bases have been covered. There is required reporting, especially to replace the existing reports from IPEDS and  of that created by linking to other federal data systems to produce wage outcomes.  This is a thoughtful bill and the only thing missing from my perspective is a partnership with the state higher education agencies. I think that is something that needs to be strengthened and considered, especially since we are not going to give up our collections, and the only mention of the states is that we can receive aggregate data by institution. That is really not adequate for the responsibilities that Virginia law charges us with. If this bill were to become law, that would have to be fixed in the regulations, if not beforehand in an amendment to the bill.

This comes at a time when Higher Education Act is (still) up for reauthorization, so I expect this bill will be part of the debate. I look forward to watching its progress. 

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