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Congress Unveils Legislation to Create Student Unit Record System

May 31, 2017

Legislation that calls for a system of tracking educational progress and outcomes was recently introduced in both the U.S. House and Senate.

The College Transparency Act, which has bipartisan support in both chambers, would reverse a 2008 ban on creating a nationwide student data system and expand data collection while tracking a number of data points for all students. While the National Center for Education Statistics already collects similar data, it does not capture part-time students or transfer students.

The Act would create a secure, privacy-protected system to evaluate enrollment patterns, progression, completion, post-collegiate outcomes, and costs and financial aid at the student level. The text of the legislation includes restrictions on collecting information on a student’s health, discipline records, elementary and secondary education data, exact address, citizenship status, course grades, college entrance examination results, political affiliation, or religion. The bills would also prohibit use of the data to rank or rate institutions or for law enforcement or debt collection purposes. Further, the bill would prohibit ED from selling the data to third parties or individual institutions.

Secure linkages would be created between this new information system and those at other federal agencies, including the Departments of Treasury, Defense, and Veterans Affairs, as well as the Social Security Administration and the U.S. Census Bureau, to measure post-completion outcomes. Some aggregate data would be available to the public.

House Hearing Examines Transparency and Accountability

On May 24, the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Development of the House Education and the Workforce Committee held a hearing exploring ways students and families can make better-informed decisions when looking at colleges and universities, focusing mainly on the College Transparency Act. Three members of the subcommittee, Paul Mitchell (R-MI), Jared Polis (D-CO), Thomas Garrett (R-VA), and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) are among the co-sponsors of the legislation introduced in the House.

In his opening remarks, subcommittee chairman Brett Guthrie (R-KY) mentioned that while Congress has taken steps to improve transparency in higher education and has provided more information to the public, “there is more work to be done.”

While the overwhelming majority of the subcommittee seemed to be in favor of some sort of student unit record system—with privacy protections—Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), chairwoman of the full Education and Workforce committee, expressed concerns. Foxx was instrumental in including the ban on such a record system when the Higher Education Act was last reauthorized in 2008. An advocate for privacy and data security, Foxx noted in her opening remarks that the federal government has “a pretty lousy record of keeping data private.”

Andrew Benton, president of Pepperdine University and a hearing witness, also expressed concern with sharing too much information with the government, remarking that students are more than data points at Pepperdine. “They come to our institutions with expectations of privacy and we have to honor that,” Benton said. “It’s a promise we make to them.”

Other witnesses, who largely supported the legislation, included:

  •  Mark Schneider, vice president and institute fellow, American Institutes for Research
  • Jason Delisle, resident fellow, American Enterprise Institute
  • Maime Voight, vice president of policy research, Institute for Higher Education Policy

NACUBO will continue to monitor the status of the College Transparency Act and share any developments.


Bryan Dickson
Senior Policy Analyst