NAICU Washington Update

College Data Identified as Key HEA Reauthorization Issue by House Committee

September 26, 2012

The House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training hearing September 20 examined college data issues, and served to begin laying the groundwork for the Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization slated for the next Congress. Witnesses included Tracy Fitzsimmons, president of Shenandoah University and NAICU board member, who testified on behalf of NAICU.  She urged the subcommittee to be mindful of the extent of information colleges already provide, and cautioned against over-relying on a few data points to evaluate the effectiveness of an institution.

In her opening remarks, Subcommittee Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) observed that “Without a doubt, the [2008] reauthorization of the Higher Education Act started a process of enhancing higher education transparency.  But as tuition continues to rise at an astonishing pace, it is clear more work must be done to help students and families make informed choices about their higher education options without overburdening institutions with counterproductive red tape.”

Fitzsimmons Document Stack 9-20-12Members of the subcommittee recognized that current requirements are placing substantial burdens on institutions, and expressed interest in finding ways to whittle down the 2-foot pile of Shenandoah reports Fitzsimmons brought to the hearing. 

In this regard, Mark Schneider, vice president of the American Institutes for Research and former U.S. Commissioner of Education Statistics, suggested  Congress might consider “cleaning the attic,” i.e., getting rid of obsolete reporting requirements in the federal Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) collections. 

Schneider’s main data focus, however, was on his work in comparing institutions by linking college graduates’ earnings to their college academic  program.  Shortly before the hearing, he released a report showing the first-year earnings of graduates of public colleges in Tennessee by field of study, permitting comparisons across institutions.   Data for Tennessee and Arkansas is now available on line, with data for several other states to be released in coming months.

The message coming out of the hearing is that members of Congress are interested both in reducing administrative burdens on colleges, and  in finding better measures of “value.”   Concerns about college prices and student debt further fuel this conversation.  As Fitzsimmons emphasized in her testimony, higher education must find ways to assure that the “intangibles” of a college education, and colleges' ability to serve high-risk students don't fall by the wayside in a drive to economic efficiency.

(A recent Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing also addressed issues likely to arise in HEA reauthorization.  See separate Washington Update story.)

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