As prospective students struggle to balance the cost and benefits of a college education, they are forced to depend on the information that colleges choose to share. This could all change with a simple bipartisan bill that has been re-introduced in the U.S. Senate. Last Wednesday, Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Mark Warner, D-Va., introduced legislation that would force colleges to release key data to prospective students.
The “Student Right to Know Before You Go Act” requires colleges to detail their student graduation rates, debt levels, estimated earning potential, likelihood to graduate, and other important metrics. These statistics would be further broken down by individual institution and program of study.
The bill would also protect student privacy, establishing stricter standards on the sharing of data used to produce this consumer information.
In its current state, the “market” for choosing colleges is broken. Unfortunately, there’s no “Kelley Blue Book” for four-year degree programs. Students must base their decision on college websites, ranking sites, and an institution’s reputation. With this limited information, they are expected to make one of the most expensive investments of their lifetime.
As Sen. Rubio argues, “Students could benefit from a comprehensive system detailing the projected costs and financial outcomes of the school and area of study the student is planning to pursue – before they take out thousands of dollars in student loans. The Student Right to Know Before You Go Act could help American families make better informed and more cost-effective higher education decisions.”
While the bill’s intention is to help students and their parents through the college application process, its impact could generate an even greater ripple effect, ultimately forcing colleges—and their trustees—to look more closely at the economic value of their programs. As a result, weeding out those programs that don't provide as much bang for the buck.
No one wants to carry the burden of student debt longer than they need to, and research has shown that millennials actually do care about making money after college. With the right tools at their disposal, prospective students will aim for the schools that can lead them on the quickest path to their dream job instead of their parents’ spare bedroom.
Brendan Pringle (@BrendanPringle) is a freelance journalist in California. He is a National Journalism Center graduate and formerly served as a development officer for Young America's Foundation at the Reagan Ranch.