The west side of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. Credit: Martin Falbisoner via Wiki Creative Commons

Greater transparency at universities and colleges across the country seems to be on its way.

A bill to give families and students more information before choosing a post-secondary institution received majority support of the House of Representatives Friday. If enacted, the bipartisan College Transparency Act would establish a data system to track the education outcomes of students in post-secondary institutions, the costs of higher education, student financial aid information and create a more transparent reporting system. The bill focuses on closing gaps in the current college data reporting system and creating a user-friendly website for students and families.

In 2008, a provision added to the Higher Education Act prohibited the U.S. Department of Education from collecting “individual-level” data on student enrollment, attendance, student financial aid, employment outcomes, and graduation and retention rates.

“The existing college reporting system is incomplete, duplicative, inefficient, and burdensome. Current law prohibits the federal government from collecting and reporting accurate data on student outcomes, which leaves millions of American families in the position of making a huge investment in their children’s future without fully understanding the return on investment,” a release from the office of Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-MI-10) reads.

Mitchell introduced the House bill in March 2019.

The system would require information collection from institutions that participate in Title IV programs. However, institutions not participating in Title IV Programs can voluntarily submit data.

The system would include a student’s age, race or ethnicity, gender, program of study, full-or part-time enrollment status, degree rank within the institution, federal Pell Grant and federal loan status, distance education status, military benefit status and whether the student is a first-time, recent transfer or non-first-time college student. The bill also leaves the door open to collect data on a student’s economic status, participation in remedial coursework and if a student is a first-generation college student.

As the bill is currently written, the system would be prohibited from collecting data regarding citizenship status, migrant status, national origin status, course grades, college entrance exam scores, religion, political affiliation, health, student discipline and elementary and secondary education.

Any “personally identifiable information” would not be available for federal, state and local law enforcement. The bill explicitly includes the enforcement of immigration law and debt collection in this prohibition.

This data would also be prohibited from sale to a third party.

As of publication, 225 representatives have cosponsored the bill, with 146 Democrats and 79 Republicans. Ohio Representatives co-sponsoring the bill include Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH-15), Rep. Steve Cabbot (R-OH-1), Rep. Michael Turner (R-OH-10), Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH-2), Rep. David Joyce (R-OH-14), Rep. Warren Davidson (R-OH-8), Rep. Troy Balderson (R-OH-12) and Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH-7).

The Senate companion bill has 34 cosponsors. Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) cosponsored the bill but Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) did not.