In Depth The Student Right to Know Before You Go Act would provide prospective higher education students with a host of new data on school graduation rates, expected debt levels and expected employment prospects.

Published on October 11th, 2013 | by Travis Korte

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Student Right to Know Before You Go Act of 2013

Legislation to expand the information available to prospective higher education students is awaiting consideration by committees in the Senate and House of Representatives. The Student Right to Know Before You Go Act, H.R. 1937 and S. 915, is sponsored by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Mark Warner (D-VA), and Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Reps. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) and Rob Andrews (D-NJ), respectively.

The legislation would update what information colleges, universities and technical schools are required to report under the Higher Education Act of 1965. Students looking to attend these schools would be able to get better data on graduation rates, earnings outcomes and student turnover for each school and its degree programs.

This legislation would help combat the mismatch between the skills employers want and those of college graduates. With a graduate unemployment rate estimated at 7.9 percent in 2013, this need is acute. Where people go to school and what they study often determines their future employment and earnings. Since schools do not report this information in a standard way, students cannot easily compare different schools. Moreover, students considering taking out loans for college or graduate studies may have unreasonable expectations about their ability to pay off this debt. Data on expected loan amounts and future earning potential will help prospective students and their parents make more informed decisions about what programs and schools they choose.

For example, high school juniors looking at schools on the West Coast might change their application decisions based on the stark contrast between California’s Harvey Mudd College (among the highest return on investment in the country) and Oregon’s Lewis & Clark College (among the lowest). The current research on collegiate value is a step in the right direction, but with the additional granularity and scope proposed in the Student Right to Know Act, this sort of analysis would be able to be tailored to individual students.

By making new data available, the legislation would help students get a better picture of the outcomes of their educational choices, and it will do so in a way that utilizes data that is already being collected by schools, without requiring them to undertake costly overhauls of their data collection mechanisms.

The legislation would require schools to report a broader range of student-level information to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), the core postsecondary data collection program of the U.S. Department of Education. Schools would be required to report a host of additional data including the number of students who participated in remedial education and the number who sought degrees or certificates from their programs.

In addition, the legislation would require the Department of Education to calculate the proportion of students who have taken loans or grants, student transfer rates, rates of students continuing to higher levels of education, and other variables at the school and academic program level. This information would then be broken down by grant or loan status, credits taken and other student characteristics, and made available in a de-identified form on IPEDS. Past analyses have failed to account for schools that have many students with grant-based financial aid, thereby painting an inaccurate picture of return on investment at these schools, and the act would help correct this problem.

Using this information, the Department of Education would then be required to work with the Social Security Administration to create earnings metrics (such as median annual earnings at 2-, 6-, and 15-year periods after the completion of an educational program) for each program, credential, school, and state of employment. The legislation would also reward schools that help students achieve professional and financial success providing an incentive for schools to track performance and seek improvements.

The bills await consideration from the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, and the House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training.

Photo: Flickr/David Michael Morris

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About the Author

Travis Korte is a research analyst at the Center for Data Innovation specializing in data science applications and open data. He has a background in journalism, computer science and statistics. Prior to joining the Center for Data Innovation, he launched the Science vertical of The Huffington Post and served as its Associate Editor, covering a wide range of science and technology topics. He has worked on data science projects with HuffPost and other organizations. Before this, he graduated with highest honors from the University of California, Berkeley, having studied critical theory and completed coursework in computer science and economics. His research interests are in computational social science and using data to engage with complex social systems. You can follow him on Twitter @traviskorte.



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