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Subcommittee Explores Opportunities to Help Families Understand Higher Education Opportunities, Investments

The Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training, chaired by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), today held a hearing entitled, “Keeping College Within Reach: Enhancing Transparency for Students, Families and Taxpayers.” The hearing provided members an opportunity to discuss the tools currently available to help students and families obtain information about their postsecondary education options.

“In recent years, the federal government has taken steps to improve data collection and transparency in the higher education system,” Rep. Foxx said. “Under Republican leadership, the 2008 reauthorization of the Higher Education Act included several provisions to help provide families with the data needed to make informed decisions about their postsecondary opportunities.”

While the College Navigator, Financial Aid Shopping Sheets, and net-price calculators are helpful tools created as a result of the 2008 HEA reauthorization, “clearly there are still areas for improvement in higher education data,” Rep. Foxx noted.

Information is crucial to help families understand their higher education options and the financial investment that comes with earning a postsecondary degree, but many students have difficulty accessing and understanding the relevant data.

“The Internet has greatly helped to democratize access to information,” said Dr. Donald Heller, Dean of the College of Education at Michigan State University. “What it has not done as successfully, however, has been to help people get access to the right information to meet their needs. And it is critical that we help prospective students to get the right information in their hands at the necessary times.”

Colleges and universities invest significant time and money compiling data on a wide range of issues, including financial aid packages, graduation and retention rates, and average cost of tuition and fees, to comply with federal reporting requirements. Institutions must also report information to states, some of which are working to implement additional data systems to help improve higher education transparency.

States like Arizona, Kentucky, and Washington have developed data dashboards that provide prospective students with statewide and campus performance data. Travis Reindl, Program Director of the Education Division at the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, said, “The federal government can support these efforts, specifically by streamlining and coordinating regulations across federally funded programs to promote better accountability, transparency, and reduce redundancies and administrative costs.”

“Simpler and clearer should be a goal for federal efforts,” suggested Mr. Reindl. “The upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act provides a prime opportunity for the Congress to review all of the existing dashboards, report cards, and data tools for postsecondary education to determine whether and how they are being used, and if there are opportunities for streamlining or consolidation.”

Alex Garrido, a U.S. Navy veteran and student at Keiser University in Miami, Florida, described a few of the metrics he looked for when researching and choosing a higher education institution. “For me, choosing a college was about my academic needs and I did not come by my decision lightly. I considered graduation rates, the number of students in my classes, the length of the degree program since I was receiving funding that would not last indefinitely, accreditation and placement rates. These things would all determine how successful I would be in my chosen career path.”

The Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training will continue to examine policies and proposals to improve higher education transparency in the months ahead.

"As we approach reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, we must discuss ways to improve data without placing additional burdens on institutions or creating more confusion for students and families," Rep. Foxx concluded. "We should also explore opportunities to better align federal transparency initiatives with state and accreditors' reporting requirements."

To read witness testimony, opening statements, or watch an archived webcast of today’s hearing, visit

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