Washington Watch: Data transparency remains a top priority

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Bipartisan groups of policymakers in the House and Senate have announced the bipartisan reintroduction of the College Transparency Act (CTA), legislation that the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) has long supported.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, continues to champion the legislation, which he reintroduced on April 27 alongside Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and 16 other original cosponsors. The bill was simultaneously introduced in the House by Reps. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Illinois) and Joe Wilson (R-South Carolina).

CTA seeks to lift the federal ban on collecting student-level data, which prevents the nation’s federal postsecondary data system to count all students. As a result, the system fails to deliver an accurate understanding of student success – including graduation rates and post-college earnings. It also introduces redundancy and inefficiency into postsecondary education data collections.

CTA would create a secure, privacy-protected student-level data system within the National Center on Education Statistics, which is housed in the U.S. Education Department. The system would ultimately streamline institutional reporting requirements, while providing a more accurate picture of students’ college access, progression and success. With this system, colleges can better align program offerings with workforce demands and better showcase the value of community college programs to stakeholders.

Broad support, but…

The bill passed the House last Congress as part of an amendment to the America COMPETES Act. The amendment, which also included the JOBS Act, was approved on a bipartisan basis. Despite broad support in both chambers, the higher education components of the package were dropped in conference, and neither CTA nor JOBS made it into the final CHIPS and Science Act.

The CTA enjoys broad support from policymakers on both sides of the aisle and from almost all of the larger higher education community. A coalition of support includes nearly 150 organizations representing colleges and universities, employers, workforce and community development groups, students, veterans and civil rights advocates.

However, there remains vehement opposition to the measure, most notably by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-North Carolina), chair of the House Education and the Workforce Committee. The ban on student-level data collection was enacted under Foxx’s leadership, and she remains passionate about the issue.

Need for accuracy

Community colleges continue to push for the creation of a student-level data system through CTA, recognizing the need for better data to drive student success and inform policy. The Education Department (ED) has made continuous improvements to the College Scorecard, the federal government’s consumer-facing postsecondary data tool. These improvements include using the eight-year “outcomes Measure” as the primary metric for student success, increasing transparency of cumulative loan debt and repayment rates, and, most recently, providing median earnings data for graduates four years after program completion.

However, even with these improvements, the Scorecard and other federal postsecondary data collections remain limited in their use because they don’t display outcomes for all students in a college or program, largely being limited to Title IV recipients. To that end, AACC has asked the Senate HELP Committee to advance CTA as part of the reauthorization of the Education Sciences Reform Act (ESRA).

AACC thanks the lawmakers who reintroduced the legislation and all of CTA’s original cosponsors for their leadership, and it will continue to work for its enactment.

About the Author

Kathryn Gimborys
Kathryn Gimborys is a government relations manager at the American Association of Community Colleges.