Data Can Help Students Maximize Return on Their College Investment

Blog by Jennifer Latson for Arnold Ventures: “When you buy a car, you want to know it will get you where you’re going. Before you invest in a certain model, you check its record. How does it do in crash tests? Does it have a history of breaking down? Are other owners glad they bought it?

Students choosing between college programs can’t do the same kind of homework. Much of the detailed data we demand when we buy a car isn’t available for postsecondary education — data such as how many students find jobs in the fields they studied, what they earn, how much debt they accumulate, and how quickly they repay it — yet choosing a college is a much more important financial decision.

The most promising solution to filling in the gaps, according to data advocates, is the College Transparency Act, which would create a secure, comprehensive national data network with information on college costs, graduation rates, and student career paths — and make this data publicly available. The bill, which will be discussed in Congress this year, has broad support from both Republicans and Democrats in the House and the Senate in part because it includes precautions to protect privacy and secure student data….

The data needed to answer questions about student success already exists but is scattered among various agencies and institutions: the Department of Educationfor data on student loan repayment; the Treasury Department for earnings information; and schools themselves for graduation rates.

“We can’t connect the dots to find out how these programs are serving certain students, and that’s because the Department of Education isn’t allowed to connect all the information these places have already collected,” says Amy Laitinen, director for higher education at New America, a think tank collaborating with IHEP to promote educational transparency.
And until recently, publicly available federal postsecondary data only included full-time students who’d never enrolled in a college program before, ignoring the more than half of the higher ed population made up of students who attend school part time or who transfer from one institution to another….(More)”.