The Agenda

A First Step Towards Comprehensive Higher Ed Reform

Kelly Field of the Chronicle of Higher Education reports on the bipartisan Student Right to Know Before You Go Act of 2013, which aims to provide students and parents with reliable information on earnings by program of study and state of employment, cumulative debt levels, transfer rates, and graduation rates at U.S. coleges and universities. The higher education lobby has fought similar measures in the past on the grounds that a federal “unit record” system threatens the privacy of students, and so students and parents have no reliable way of knowing, for example, how many Pell Grant recipients at a given school actually graduate within five years. This data can be anonymized, and so the privacy concerns are almost entirely a canard. But the widespread availability of reliable data on student outcomes would, for obvious reasons, represent a grave threat to colleges and universities that offer a substandard education and that leave many students with heavy debt loads and little else. Opponents of the legislation are now turning to delaying tactics — some are calling for further study to determine the data students want on outcomes, as though we will somehow discover that students don’t really care about graduation rates and debt levels and earnings by program of study after all. It could be that students would prefer to know which colleges party the hardest. I doubt it, but it’s at least possible. Yet data on things like graduation rates and debt levels and earnings are presumably of great interest to parents and to taxpayers, which seems like reason enough to pass the Student Right to Know Before You Go Act, and indeed to go further in the direction of creating a unit record system.

Reihan Salam is president of the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.

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