NAICU Washington Update

Senate Holds Hearing on the Role of Consumer Information in College Choice

May 14, 2015

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a hearing focused on the role of consumer information in college choice. The hearing on May 6 marked the second time the Senate has convened in the 114th Congress regarding federal higher education policy as the committee continues to work towards reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

The witness testimony focused primarily on tools and data the federal government provides to consumers in order to help them make informed college choices. There was universal agreement by the witnesses that the federal government plays a crucial role in helping students find the institution that is the “best fit” to continue their education. However, the witnesses also believed that providing too much data to students can have an overwhelming effect that is counterproductive to the government’s goals. In particular, one witness, Stacy Lightfoot, Vice President of College & Career Success Initiatives, Public Education Foundation, a nonprofit, community-based organization that provides training, research, and resources to educators, mentioned the flexibility of Net Price Calculators as extremely useful to guiding students towards a school that might be a better fit, even though it could have a higher sticker price.

Members of the Committee were relatively muted in their comments and questions. HELP Committee Republicans tended to focus on deregulation as a means of providing better, more cost effective consumer information. They lamented the growth and inaccessibility of the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), and challenged themselves to “weed the garden” of unnecessary reporting mandates and disclosures. Finally, Committee Republicans devoted attention to the idea of promoting alternatives to bachelor’s degree, including an associate’s degrees and certificates, as a means to spur economic growth.

Committee Democrats focused on making publicly available much of the data the federal government already collects. Democrats were upset that much of what colleges and universities are required to report to the U.S. Department of Education never sees is not made readily available to consumers. They also touched on strengthening wraparound and cradle-to-career services, as well as ensuring that consumers are provided with accurate information on financing, earnings, and chances of success provided by college programs.

Further information, including witness testimony and a video of the hearing, can be found on the HELP Committee website.

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