NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

More Transparency Is Needed in Education

May 20, 2013

College has always been heralded as the ticket to a higher income and at least a middle class lifestyle. But with more than $1 trillion in student debt, parents and college students are now questioning the value of a college degree given the rising costs of college and an uncertain labor market. To help families make better choices in what is typically the second-largest investment a person will make, more information and transparency is needed, says Andrew Kelly of the Hill.

  • Only 50 percent of college students finish a degree or certificate within six years and many of the students will graduate with an enormous debt load.
  • According to the College Board, tuition at public four-year colleges grew 66 percent over the last 10 years, far outpacing financial aid and tuition discounts.
  • The median borrower now owes nearly $14,000, while the returns on college degrees have actually decreased over the last decade.

The Current Population Survey shows that inflation-adjusted income for recent college graduates actually declined between 2000 and 2011. With many college-educated individuals having a bleaker outlooks than in years past, several proposals highlight opportunities that federal policymakers have failed to capitalize.

  • Students should be informed about the different economic returns that different colleges and degrees offer.
  • For instance, students should be aware that graduates from science, technology and math majors typically out earn other degree holders and students who attend more selective colleges are more likely to graduate than those who don't.
  • Promoting this type of information would help battle the common assumption that any college degree will lead to a better economic future.

To track graduate return on investment, policymakers need to reconsider a ban on the federal government collecting individual-level data on college students. More information could be troublesome for some colleges but better-informed consumers might make better choices with their tuition dollars.

  • Politicians also need to examine the efficacy of the student aid programs, which total more than $150 billion.
  • With a handful of congressmen now supporting more transparency in higher education, students may soon have a better idea what to expect for their money.

Source: Andrew Kelly, "Students Need Better Information," The Hill, May 7, 2013.


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