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Senators push for college student outcomes data

May 15, 2017

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators is starting a push to repeal the federal ban on tracking the educational and employment outcomes of college students, Politico reports. The prohibition was enacted as part of the 2008 reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

Four senators — Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah; Elizabeth A. Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts; Bill Cassidy, Republican of Louisiana; and Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island — are spearheading the effort. The legislation they plan to propose would allow the federal government, families, and prospective students to glean more “accurate and complete data” about students at a particular college or in a certain major, whether they graduate on time, and what kinds of jobs they land upon graduation, among other things, according to Politico.

“The College Transparency Act will patch up the big gaps in college data transparency and finally provide students, families, and policy makers with an accurate picture of how colleges are serving today’s students,” Ms. Warren said in a news release announcing the effort.

Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, which has been working closely with lawmakers to develop the legislation, agreed. “Public universities commend Senators Hatch, Warren, Cassidy, and Whitehouse for championing students’ and families’ need for better information on higher education,” he said.

The American Association of State Colleges and Universities lauded the plan in a statement. “Accurate, actionable, and timely data about higher-education practices, costs, and outcomes are critical for policy makers and the public to make informed evidence-based choices,” the association said. “We look forward to working with Congress, the administration, and the higher-education community to design the secure privacy-protected infrastructure that the nation needs for the collection and analysis of relevant higher-education data.”

The National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, a longtime opponent of such student-tracking systems, responded to the senators’ plan with renewed criticism. In a written statement, Sarah Flanagan, the group’s vice president for government relations and policy development, said: “Americans are more sensitive today to the security concerns around big data bases than ever before; and more skeptical of government. It is hard to imagine popular support growing in this climate for having the confidential information of every American student turned over to the federal government.”

Still, she wrote, “we look forward to working with the senators who proposed the legislation to address the privacy questions that the sponsors have raised, but not yet fully answered.”

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