U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced legislation that would provide college-bound students powerful new tools for comparing colleges and universities on measures such as total cost, likelihood of graduating, and potential earnings.
“The Student Right to Know Before You Go Act” would, for the first time, make publicly available key facts for each college and university, including earnings data for graduates, graduation rates for non-traditional students, transfer rates, frequency with which graduates go on to pursue higher levels of education, and debt levels.
According to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, 61% of bachelor’s degree recipients in the Commonwealth graduate with debt, with a median amount of $25,000 in student debt.
“Many high school seniors who are heading to college this fall have just paid their tuition deposits, and they likely have real questions about what value they are getting for their money,” said Sen. Warner. “They deserve some answers. This bipartisan legislation will combine relevant information in a rational way so that students and their families can access comparative information on which colleges and which majors will help them find a good job after graduation. Our legislation will connect the information already collected by states and schools and post it online, where it will be accessible directly to students as they make one of the most important investments of their lifetimes.”
Under the bill, this information would be made available online in an easily accessible format. Individual privacy would be strictly maintained with safeguards to ensure that no personally identifiable information could ever be disclosed. The system would also be subject to audits to ensure data quality, validity and reliability.
“There’s no question that a college degree is worth it, but students and their families today are forced to make their higher education decisions with unacceptably little information,” Sen. Wyden said. “College is one of the most important and expensive investments people make in their lifetime. It’s only fair and reasonable that students can compare schools and programs of study based on outcomes and cost. This bill is a big step forward in providing that critical information so students can make the best and most clear-eyed decision possible.”
“Students preparing to make one of the most important investment decisions in their lifetime deserve access to as much information as possible about what kind of return they can expect on their college degree choice,” Sen. Rubio said. “The Student Right to Know Before You Go Act will provide meaningful, easily accessible data to make higher education decisions easier and more cost-effective for students and their families in the 21st century.”
According to the College Board, the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2014–2015 school year was $31,231 at private colleges, $9,139 for state residents at public colleges, and $22,958 for out-of-state residents attending public universities. About 70 percent of students who earned bachelor’s degrees in 2014 had student loan debt, with an average of $33,000 per borrower. Total student loan debt now stands at more than $1.2 trillion nationally. Student loan debt is also the number one source of household debt – more than credit card debt.
Currently, prospective students are forced to make costly and critical decisions about furthering their education with information that is often inadequate, inaccurate, or both. For example, the U.S. Department of Education makes available to the public a small slice of institutional data through its College Navigator. Many states also try to publish similar information, but the data typically only examines first-time, full-time students or students who remain within a given state after college.
With the cost of college rising and the importance of a college degree in today’s economy, more information must be available to allow students and their families the opportunity to make the best possible choice.
A chart of the bill’s key provisions can be found below. A section-by-section summary of the bill can also be found here.