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Headlines publicizing the latest data hack or ransomware attack have kept data security and privacy in the public eye, but the College Transparency Act of 2017, a bipartisan bill introduced in Congress this month, looks to reverse a ban on federal student-level data collection—for good reason. Students, parents and policymakers alike need better information on college outcomes so they’re empowered to make informed decisions when it comes to higher education options. After all, the point of pursuing a college degree is to turn that educational experience into a successful career.
While thousands of students were returning to campuses across the country last September, John B. King Jr., the U.S. Secretary of Education, was writing a blog to address the closing of ITT Technical Institute campuses—a for-profit school that had for years faced state and federal investigations and “…significant concerns about ITT’s administrative capacity, organization integrity, financial viability, and ability to serve students.” This isn’t the first time that for-profit colleges have faced negative media coverage. Numerous institutions have made promises regarding students’ post-graduation careers that never come to fruition, leaving students burdened with substantial loans and no way to pay them.
But it’s not just career tech schools that would be required to participate in the student data reporting system. In the PDF summarizing the Act, co-sponsors Senators Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) write, “Unfortunately, important information about whether or not a particular college or major pays off for students is currently incomplete. For example, despite the vast majority of students citing finding a good job as their primary reason for going to college, there is currently no easy way to evaluate the labor-market success of various programs or majors.” That’s right: The data could even help direct students toward—or away from—certain majors based on post-graduation employment success.
The bill’s sponsors note that the current system for gathering data is “antiquated” with a “complicated reporting scheme,” resulting in a frustrating lack of useful insights. Yet other industries—including ones that are regulated for data security and privacy like Banking and Healthcare—have been able to leverage customer or patient data successfully through de-identification processes that maintain critical demographic data while protecting individuals’ privacy. This legislation appears to take a similar position, suggesting that accurate reporting on enrollment, retention, completion and post-collegiate outcomes across colleges and majors can be balanced with data security and privacy.
Should the bill become law, colleges and universities will undoubtedly be pressed to focus on outcomes. In addition to providing faculty and facilities that support higher-ed, institutions also need to consider the tools in place to help prepare students for future careers. Is your current research solution designed to grow with students—from novice researchers to advanced academics to seasoned professionals?