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May 15, 2013 11:13 AM Instead of Asking for Education Transparency, Maybe We’ll Just Ask for Another Study About It

By Daniel Luzer

For years politicians and education pundits have called for more “transparency” in higher education. What programs graduate their students on time? What colleges produce graduates with the highest salaries? How are students paying back their education loans?

Despite years of this stuff, it turns out Congress is still not going to demand that colleges provide this information. Instead, according to Amy Laitinen at the New America Foundation, there’s another call to “study” what data we should be collecting to promote transparency. Really.

Both political parties spent much of last year’s election cycle talking about the need for better college information for students and families. The GOP platform called for greater transparency around “completion rates, repayment rates, future earnings, and other factors that may affect their (college) decisions.” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) put “making it easier for parents and students to make informed decisions about what type of post-high school education is right for them” on his short legislative to-do list. Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC), chair of the House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training, said at a hearing on college data, “We have so much data, and we seem to know so little. What a tragedy for all the money that we’re spending in this country.” President Obama used his State of the Union to unveil a college scorecard that provides comparable, easy-to-understand indicators of college value. Organizations that represent business and students, including the Chamber of Commerce and Young Invincibles, have been calling for better information for students and employers.

So everyone agrees! Republicans and Democrats believe Americans need more information about the cost and outcomes of college. And yet…

But despite this rare bipartisan agreement on the need for better data, and on the already-identified ways to get the data, Representative Messer (R-IN) introduced a bill yesterday that would require the formation of yet another commission to conduct yet another study on what college information is needed, or whether anyone needs it.

Messer’s bill bill, the Improving Postsecondary Education Data for Students Act (H.R. 1949), would not, despite its title, improve postsecondary education data. It would merely “direct the Department of Education to explore opportunities to enhance higher education transparency.”

Messer’s bill would require the secretary of education to “convene an Advisory Committee on Improving Postsecondary Education Data to explore opportunities to enhance higher education transparency.” It would also require that committee to “review existing federal, state, institutional, and private-sector transparency initiatives to determine the information that is most helpful to both traditional and non-traditional students, including student veterans.” That magical advisory committee would also “explore whether information about college graduates’ earnings would serve as an effective measure of program quality for prospective students.”

The point of this advisory committee is apparently to assist in the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. All of this sounds vaguely reasonable, even to progressive education reformers, but it’s actually useless.

If you want better education transparency, demand the information. The last thing America needs is another advisory committee on education transparency.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer