Bipartisan House Bill Would Improve Postsecondary Data System, Help Low-Income and Underprepared Students Make Better Decisions

By Anna Cielinski

In May 2015, a bipartisan group of House members introduced H.R. 2518, the “Student Right to Know Before You Go” Act of 2015. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), would provide students, families, and policymakers much-needed information to improve postsecondary education decisions. H.R. 2518 is the House companion to S. 1195, a bipartisan Senate bill sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Marco Rubio (R-FL). If enacted, it would be a major step toward an improved federal postsecondary data system that could assist low-income and underprepared students.

The bill would provide an exemption from the ban on a student unit record system and leverage the existing Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) to provide more accurate and complete data on student retention, transfer, graduation, and employment outcomes at all levels of postsecondary enrollment. As a member of the PostsecData Collaborative, CLASP strongly believes students should have access to this information when making postsecondary education decisions.

As an advocate for low-income people, CLASP is pleased that much of the data would be disaggregated by Pell Grant status. This will help policymakers and researchers understand how low-income students are faring in postsecondary education, allowing them to target policy changes toward performance or outcome gaps between Pell and non-Pell recipients.

The bill also requires median annual earnings and employment metrics—disaggregated by program of study, credential received, institution, and state of employment—to be reported 2, 6, and 15 years after completion. CLASP has strongly supported responsible use of employment and earnings data while cautioning against unintended disincentives for institutions to enroll low-income and underprepared students.

We are especially pleased that the bill would provide for employment and earnings data at the program-of-study level. Low-income and underprepared students who are place-bound may have limited choices of institutions, but they can choose among many programs of study. This data would help students select programs based on proven earning potential.

While there is much to support in the bill, improvements could be made. For example, it appears that employment and earnings data would not be disaggregated by Pell Grant status under the bill as drafted. Policymakers may be concerned that further disaggregation from the program-of-study level could produce numbers of students too low to report for privacy reasons. That problem could be solved by giving the Secretary of Education authority to combine five years of students into one cohort, a practice already employed by state-run College Measures consumer information websites. CLASP looks forward to working with Congress to improve this important legislation.