by Tim Carpenter, Kansas Reflector
May 4, 2023
TOPEKA — The leaders of Kansas State University and the University of Kansas endorsed legislation overturning a federal ban on collection of student-level data on higher education enrollment rates, degree completion and post-college success across institutions and majors.
Support from KU chancellor Doug Girod and KSU president Richard Linton coincided with a commitment from U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall, a Kansas Republican, to advocate for approval by Congress of a measure expanding availability of practical information for use by individuals deciding where to enroll in college.
The U.S. House approved a version of the College Transparency Act in 2022, but the U.S. Senate didn’t concur. On Monday, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill aimed at closing gaps in U.S. college data reporting.
“Families and students should have access to all relevant information as they consider their higher education opportunities,” Girod said. “The understanding of student success at universities and a comparison between the cost to attend a university and potential job placement and lifetime earnings are important factors in the value of a degree.”
Linton said the proposal enabling the National Center for Education Statistics to securely report privacy-protected, student-level data would be helpful to students and their families.
“As a land-grant university,” Linton said, “K-State strives to be accessible to all Kansans and the data this bill provides to students, families, universities and others will help tell a complete story of student outcomes.”
Marshall said the objective was to package and deliver information that wasn’t distorted by colleges or universities in a quest to attract students. He said distribution of skewed statistics in the recruiting process would be “immoral and unfair.”
The senator said it made sense to create a central repository of comparative information on graduation rates, average student debt and starting salaries for graduates of every college or university in the nation.
“Deciding whether to attend college or not is one of the biggest choices students will make in their lifetimes, and they should know what they’re getting into before making that choice,” Marshall said. “I’m proud to support this bill and help empower students to make the best possible choice to meet their career goals after high school and beyond.”
Under the new bill introduced by U.S. Sens. Tim Kaine of Virginia, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, the National Center for Education Statistics would be responsible for securely storing student information, working with other federal agencies to generate post-college outcomes reports and presenting summary information on a public user-friendly website.
Information shared by NCES, which is part of the U.S. Department of Education, would allow students to compare colleges and academic programs while also aiding lawmakers attempting to improve U.S. higher education and support businesses searching for sources of potential employees.
Congress has weighed legislation for a half-dozen years that would remove a ban on implementation of a federal data system to track movement through higher education and into the workforce.
Some private colleges have opposed a federal mandate on disclosure of information on a national scale and some federal lawmakers have been skeptical of government prying into the lives of Americans. More than 150 higher education organizations and other groups have endorsed some form of a college transparency law.
In 2022, the U.S. House — not the U.S. Senate — attached a higher education transparency amendment to an economic development measure. The House sought to require systematic reporting of student enrollment, persistence, transfer and completion for all programs and degree levels. Data would have been disaggregated by demographics, including race and ethnicity, gender and age.
In addition, the House’s version would have enabled the Department of Education to share limited data with the Internal Revenue Service and Social Security Administration to calculate postgraduate outcomes, including income and career prospects.
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