Now is the Time to Pass the College Transparency Act

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Before Congress closes out 2022, it’s time to think about lame duck legislating and the College Transparency Act (CTA) is one key higher education priority that should be on policymakers’ “must-pass” list before the end of the year. CTA will lift the current student unit record ban that prohibits the collection of comprehensive student outcomes data, making it difficult for students and their families to compare outcomes across higher education institutions. Whether and where to attend college is one of the biggest financial decisions students will make in their lives—they need complete and useful data on how students fare at the institutions they’re considering, and Congress needs to capitalize on the current moment to get the bill across the finish line.

CTA was the single most bipartisan bill when counting co-sponsors in the 116th Congress and boasts the support of nearly half of all Senators and Representatives from both parties. Earlier this year, CTA also passed the House in an amendment to the America COMPETES Act of 2022 on a bipartisan basis with 22 Republican votes. And this overwhelming support is matched outside of Congress—CTA has broad public support, with nearly 200 organizations endorsing the bill. The sheer size of this group of supporters isn’t the only notable aspect; it’s also a diverse set of organizations consisting of higher education associations, think tanks, non-profits, civil rights groups, and the business community. All these organizations and lawmakers recognize the value CTA will provide by creating a privacy-protected student-level data network that will allow students to make well-informed choices about where to attend college and Congress to make well-informed policy decisions to ensure better outcomes for all students.

The current window of opportunity to pass the bill is shrinking.

Even with Democrats holding the Senate with a slim majority in the 118th Congress, the slight Republican majority in the House will make legislating more challenging— making the coming lame duck session a key opportunity for advocates and policymakers to finally secure the passage of CTA. A Republican-controlled House in 2023 could also result in Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC), one of the strongest opponents of CTA, becoming Chair of the House Committee on Education and Labor. As the author of the original student unit record ban, Rep. Foxx has made her opposition to CTA a hallmark of her platform and fights fiercely against outcomes-focused data collection. Rep. Foxx will actively work to block the bill if she takes the committee reins, so passing CTA while she and her party are still in the minority is the easiest path forward for the popular legislation to pass out of both chambers.

CTA is crucial to the passage and implementation of other key priorities.

The Biden Administration has been working hard to pass legislation and regulate on a wide range of higher education issues, including reinstating the gainful employment rule and adding an earnings threshold to the regulation, revamping the income-driven repayment program, and reforming college accreditation. CTA will ensure that policymaking is grounded in good data by providing better and more finely disaggregated information on the students who enroll and their completion and post-college outcomes. A clear example of the need for this data is the Jumpstart Our Businesses by Supporting Students Act (JOBS Act), a bill that would open the Pell Grant to currently ineligible short-term job training programs. The federal government lacks student outcomes data from these programs, leaving students with no way to judge quality. Should there be a push to pass the JOBS Act in lame duck, at a minimum the Pell expansion must be paired with CTA to ensure students and their families have the information they need to make decisions about where to attend. By allowing for secure, privacy-protected collection of demographic and outcomes data, CTA will unlock this needed information and enable researchers and policymakers to track the impacts of new policies to ensure they’re working in students’ best interests.

Conclusion

Attending college is one of the biggest financial decisions students will make in their lives, so it’s crucial that they and their families have useful and detailed information on student outcomes to inform their decision making. Passing CTA will provide students with that necessary information, enable researchers to identify existing equity gaps, and allow the federal government to collect data on all students to ensure that our higher education system is serving students well. Given the broad bipartisan support, the critical and limited window of opportunity, and the strong need for the data and transparency the bill will provide, now is the time to finally pass the College Transparency Act.

Topics
  • Higher Education595

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