Long-Awaited Higher Education Bill Calls for Better Consumer Information; But Would Miss Wage Data for Many Students

By Christina Peña, December 01, 2017

Earlier today, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Chairwoman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, on behalf of herself and Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY), introduced H.R. 4508 to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA). The new bill, titled the “Promoting Real Opportunity, Success and Prosperity through Education Reform” (PROSPER) Act, does not include the College Transparency Act that WDQC and over 130 other organizations have supported, and lacks some of its stronger provisions. The new bill, however, does propose changes to improve consumer information.

The PROSPER Act would create a public College Dashboard website to replace the current College Navigator and show information on all students at institutions eligible for Title IV federal financial aid. The Department of Education would publish aggregated information on enrollment, average completion, average cost, and financial aid on websites linked with the new Dashboard website. 

Graduation rates and other metrics would also go beyond covering first-time, full-time students. This information is important for showing the experiences of transfer students and other non-traditional students who return to school years later or attend institutions on a part-time basis. The Dashboard would also provide more information on particular demographic groups, such as those who have a disability, or receive Veteran’s benefits.

The College Dashboard would report at the program level, not just the institutional level, on information such as:

  • Median earnings of students five and ten years after graduating with a certificate or degree; and,
  • Average debt of student borrowers at graduation.

This program level information, however, would be available only on students who received federal financial aid, and would therefore not be representative of all students. This would severely limit the usefulness of the College Dashboard as a consumer information tool.

As a way to promote the College Dashboard, the bill requires the Secretary of Education to provide students with a link to the College Dashboard page of each institution listed on a student’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Although the bill states the goal of reducing the reporting burden associated with the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), the PROSPER Act does not seek to replace most of IPEDS through matching administrative data, which the creation of a federal student level data system could help deliver on, and which the College Transparency Act would bring about.

WDQC will continue analyzing the bill and provide updates in the future. With a Congressional environment that is busier than usual, the Senate is expected to take up the bill early next year.

For additional updates, including on non-data sections of the bill, check the websites of our colleague organizations: