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House Cmte. Passes Bill on Higher Ed. Data Transparency

On a bipartisan voice vote that took place in record time yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce approved sending the "Improving Postsecondary Education Data for Students Act" (HR 1949) to the full House for consideration. The bill calls for the creation of an advisory committee under the U.S. Department of Education to examine the available research on what information about colleges and universities, and in what formats, would most help students and families in navigating higher education, as compared to the information that is actually available to them and how it's provided. The committee would have 6 months to report interim findings to Congress and 1 year to produce a final report detailing its final conclusions as well as its recommendations for changing the higher education data requirements and products of institutions and federal agencies to better meet students' needs.

The bipartisan support for this bill mirrors the bipartisan movement in the Senate to revamp the collection and dissemination of higher education data to better support students and families in making higher education decisions. There, Democratic Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Mark Warner (D-VA) have partnered with Republican Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) to introduce a revised "Student Right to Know Before You Go Act." As discussed in a blog post from earlier this week, the recently introduced bill, which is a significantly revamped form of a bill introduced by Wyden and Rubio last year, would address concerns about the scope and usefulness of the higher education data currently collected and disseminated by mandating the creation of a national student unit record system. Such a system would collect data on individual students throughout their academic careers and potentially into the workforce, allowing researchers, policy-makers, and ultimately the public to get a much more granular view of the outcomes generated by colleges and universities as well as federal and state higher education policies. However, such a concept has long raised serious concerns about privacy, leading to the current ban on a federal unit record system that the Wyden-Rubio-Warner bill would overturn if passed.

Regardless of whether either bill passes either or both houses of Congress, they provide further indication that Democrats and Republicans may have found a rare area of policy agreement--the need for significant change in what higher education data gets collected, especially in relation to learning and workforce outcomes, and how it gets shared with students and families to inform higher education decision-making. (And let's not forget how it gets shared with and used by policy-makers to hold colleges and universities accountable for performance at both the state and national levels.) Thus, it is likely that the demands on colleges and universities in terms of data collection, reporting, and analysis--and thus the demands on the relevant administrative, academic, and student information systems--are likely to increase both in kind and sophistication in the next few years.


I think it is about time that we worry less about institutional privacy and more about whether the institution can statistically produce and employee who is not just adequate.  Numbers will reflect some institutional competency and I think the student and families have a right to those numbers so they can make an effective decision as to what school will benefit them the most in the area of work they want to do when they graduate.


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