NAICU Washington Update

House Hearing on Transparency Focuses on Student Unit Record and Student Privacy

June 01, 2017

The House Subcommittee on Higher Education and the Workforce held a hearing examining transparency in higher education.  Entitled “Empowering Students and Families to Make Informed Decisions on Higher Education,” the hearing focused on how best to collect sufficient data to make institutions of higher education accountable to both students and policymakers.

Despite the broad scope of the hearing, much of the debate centered on the potential creation of a student unit record data system. Although House Committee on Education and the Workforce Chairwoman Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) is the original author, and a key supporter, of the existing ban on the creation of such a system, several members of the committee would like to see the ban overturned.

In support of this goal, Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-MI) and Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) have introduced a bipartisan bill, the College Transparency Act (H.R. 2434), to establish a system that would require colleges and universities to turn over data on all individual students to the National Center for Education Statistics.  The Center would then publish aggregate information on outcome measures such as student enrollment, retention, completion, and post-collegiate earnings and employment. The bill would also make de-identified individual data available to researchers.  The bill, which at least three other committee members have co-sponsored, garnered support from multiple witnesses and members.

Witnesses who testified at the hearing included Andrew K. Benton, president of Pepperdine University and incoming NAICU board chairman, as well as individuals from several Washington, DC-based think tanks. While all the witnesses cited the importance of data in informing consumer decisions and ensuring institutional accountability, Benton’s testimony emphasized the need to simultaneously protect student privacy.

Although the Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY) acknowledged the need to strike the right balance between accountability and privacy, he also noted that there is “more work to be done” to improve transparency when reauthorizing the Higher Education Act.

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