WASHINGTON, D.C. | September 20, 2012 -
The 2008 reauthorization of the Higher Education Act included several provisions aimed at improving transparency in higher education. For the first time, institutions were required to make information about higher education pricing and financial aid more readily available to students and families. Additionally, the reauthorization encouraged colleges and universities to provide the federal government with more information about basic institutional characteristics, such as demographics and graduation rates, to help students make well-informed higher education choices.
At the time, then-Ranking Member Buck McKeon said the legislation would help our nation’s higher education system “begin a transformation that will make it more accessible, affordable, and accountable to consumers.” Without a doubt, the most recent reauthorization of the Higher Education Act started a process of enhancing higher education transparency. But as tuition continues to rise at an astonishing pace, it is clear more work must be done to help students and families make informed choices about their higher education options without overburdening institutions with counterproductive red tape.
The Obama administration has recently suggested a need to make more data available to help prospective students and families better understand their postsecondary education options as well as the financial commitment required by the schools they’re considering. However, there is concern that new or additional data requirements could be duplicative or unnecessarily burdensome to higher education institutions.
After all, the nation’s 7,000 postsecondary education institutions already dedicate thousands of hours and millions of dollars on data reporting each year. In the 2011-2012 academic year, institutions spent roughly 800,000 hours and more than $28 million filling out surveys for just one of the Department of Education’s five main higher education databases. Experts predict the burden will grow to 850,000 hours and $31 million in the 2012-2013 school year.
Again, these numbers reflect just a portion of the federal reporting requirements currently leveraged on our higher education institutions. One can only assume the total investment in federal data collection is much greater. Adding insult to injury, institutions may also be asked to submit additional data to accreditors and state leaders. This information often differs from the federal requirements, adding to the burden facing the nation’s postsecondary schools.
As I have previously stated, those in Washington have a responsibility to weigh carefully any federal action to ensure that such actions will not create greater costs for students and schools, particularly in these tough economic times. In the next Congress, this committee will be responsible for leading the charge once again to reauthorize the Higher Education Act. Today’s hearing will allow us an opportunity to review the types of higher education data currently collected by the federal government and discuss whether this information is useful to families, institutions, and taxpayers.
We are fortunate today to have several expert witnesses with us who can offer their perspectives on data reporting, and I expect their thoughts will inform future discussions on the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.
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