Stating the obvious, college is one of the most important and expensive investments Americans make. In addition to tuition costs, from a consumer perspective, other factors should be important in deciding on a college, including graduate employment prospects, average student loan debt, and average number of semesters taken to complete a degree. If you were making a decision on buying a car, you would have access to a tremendous amount comparative information, some generated and collected by the federal government, and other information coming from the manufactures themselves.
Despite the fact that vast amounts of very detailed consumer information exists regarding colleges that could be used by students for comparison purposes, the Higher Education Act currently prevents the collation and publication of this otherwise useful comparative data. As a result of the Higher Education Act, students are left with incomplete and inconsistent data to base their college decision on.
Accordingly, the College Transparency Act of 2017, backed by primarily state colleges, looks to remedy this gap by allowing data the federal government is already existing to be combined and published. The proponents of the bill argue that maximizing information availability both empowers students to choose the school that is best for them, while also holding schools accountable for their outcomes. Opponents of the bill (mainly private institutions) fear the risks of having the government amass such a large database of information which actually includes information about individual students. In addition to concerns about privacy and electronic security breaches, there are fears the collection of this data could also allow the government to target specific students, such as the undocumented students otherwise protected by the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (“Dreamers”).
Ultimately the benefits of using big data for consumer purposes creates tension for those concerned about privacy. Until the concerns about protecting privacy are overcome, it remains unlikely the bill will pass.