Helping Americans make smart choices when investing in higher ed

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Nobody these days would buy a car or a major appliance without basic information about the record and reliability of that product. However, Americans currently are denied similar data about one of the most important purchases they can make – a higher education.

For millions of families across the U.S., paying for college is one of the biggest investments they’ll make — next to purchasing a house. So shouldn’t those families and potential students know what they’re getting for their money?

{mosads}Currently, the federal government is unable to collect and disseminate accurate information about graduation rates, employment outcomes and other key data about what to expect in return for a tuition check. This leaves millions of American families in the position of making a huge investment in their children’s future with no hint of what the return might be.

Taking action to correct this problem is not a partisan issue. That’s why we – a Democrat and a Republican – are reintroducing the College Transparency Act in the 116th Congress. This bill would address shortcomings in the current college reporting system by ensuring accurate and complete reporting on student enrollment, retention, completion, and post-collegiate outcomes across colleges and majors. It would paint a much fuller picture for the millions of families each year contemplating whether or where to send their children for a college degree.

Last Congress, we co-sponsored legislation – now law – upgrading our nation’s career and technical education system, and we have a particular interest in making the educational outcomes of these programs more transparent. Community colleges and other technical training programs can result in well-paid and rewarding careers while generally costing far less than a four-year college or university. This path may prove to be a much more affordable alternative for many families – particularly if they can accurately measure the costs and benefits. It is part of the reason that the College Transparency Act has been endorsed by the American Association of Community Colleges.

Similarly, many of our veterans are eligible for a federally subsidized higher education under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.  Passage of the College Transparency Act would provide veterans with information that will help them use those benefits to choose the best path to the futures they’ve earned and deserve.

So what is the objection to making this vital information available?  In a word, privacy. Opponents are concerned that collecting and analyzing student-level data will put individual students at risk.

To address this concern, the College Transparency Act includes numerous safeguards to ensure every student’s individual data is fully protected. First, any data or reports available as a result of the College Transparency Act will be presented in aggregate. Next, among other important provisions it also prohibits the sale of data, penalizes those who attempt to illegally obtain it, prohibits access to the data by law enforcement, and places additional strong limitations on personally identifiable information.

The College Transparency Act would provide vital information for students and families making life-changing decisions, and protecting each student’s individual data. For the first time, they could determine which colleges and universities will give them the best return on their investment as they seek to achieve their career goals.

As we begin the 116th Congress, nothing could send a stronger signal that we’re putting partisanship aside than passing a bill to help millions of families make more informed decisions about investing their hard-earned dollars in the futures they want for themselves and their children.

Mitchell represents Michigan’s 10th District and Krishnamoorthi represents Illinois’s 8th District and is chairman of the Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy.

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