Without tracking college students’ success — or failure — it’s impossible to evaluate how colleges are performing, argues a New America Foundation report, College Blackout: How the Higher Education Lobby Fought to Keep Students in the Dark.
Ever-rising college costs, more than $1 trillion in outstanding federal student loan debt, and graduates doubtful that they’ll be able to earn enough to repay their loans have driven college value to become a major concern for most prospective students. Yet students, families, and policymakers are finding their questions can’t be answered—because the higher education lobby has fought to keep it that way.
The private nonprofit colleges, which “rely heavily on federal financial aid, drove efforts to preempt the creation of a federal student unit record system,” charges the report.
Education Secretary Margaret Spellings’s higher education commission proposed a federal database in 2005. Congress banned it in 2008.
Such a database would be able to track students as they move into higher education and through college — or, increasingly, multiple colleges — and into the work force, notes Inside Higher Ed. “It would produce more robust information about student outcomes, such as graduation rates and salary information.”
Despite privacy concerns, support is growing for a federal database.