Give Parents Better College Data

The federal government has a lot of data that could help parents and students make informed decisions.

By and + More

Eric Cantor is the majority leader of the House of Representatives and represents Virginia's Seventh Congressional District. Luke Messer represents Indiana's Sixth Congressional District.

Working parents work tirelessly to help their children achieve their dreams, and have access to more opportunity. For many that dream includes college. And their intuition is correct: A college education opens doors to more job opportunities and higher life-time earnings. But ask any parent, and they will tell you, college is not cheap.

In fact, in 1981, the annual cost for a four-year school was $8,672, but by 2011 it had reached a staggering $21,657. And barely half of the full-time students graduate within 6 years. For most families across this country, the idea of that student debt is scary. What is scarier is that most students and parents don't even know what they are paying for or how a future degree will help them make it in the world.

Which degree a student chooses to pursue or which school they choose to attend can have a major impact on whether they can get a job after graduation or how much they can eventually earn. This earning potential also has a major impact on whether the student can pay back the hefty debt he has racked up. Nearly one-third of borrowers who are under the age of 50 are over 90 days delinquent on their student loan bills.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

A study released last year by Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce found significant differences in unemployment rates for college graduates based on their major. Among unemployed graduates, 48 percent said they would have fared better in the job market with a different major. And of those graduates who are employed, only 53 percent were working full-time in their field of study. Another study of recent graduates of universities in Virginia found significant wage differences based on program of study.

So we know the problem. Students and their families don't have access to enough information to make an informed decision on what they study in college, and that negatively impacts whether they can find a job or how much they earn, and thus how long they are in debt. So how do we fix it?

The federal government has a significant amount of data that could help parents and students make informed decisions, but there are gaps in the data and too often what is available is confusing, conflicting or difficult to access.  We can do better. We can build on the work that is already being done in various states and by private groups to help prospective students and parents make informed decisions.

[See the U.S. News Best Colleges.]

This week, the House of Representatives passed The Improving Postsecondary Education Data for Students Act, which requires the Secretary of Education to convene a 15 member advisory panel who can provide recommendations on how to improve the information that is available to parents and students when they decide on schools and majors. The advisory panel will provide an interim report within six months and a final report within one year for Congress's consideration during the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

This bill will serve to kick-start the process of improving transparency in higher education and providing students and parents with the information they need to make informed decisions so that a college education can continue to be a source of empowerment for millions of Americans.

There are currently too many hard-working people out of work. We should be helping those who are choosing to invest a life savings or rack up significant debt on a college education choose the best path forward so they can help restore our economy and achieve their dreams.

This bill is a start. And more needs to be done.

  • Read the U.S. News Debate: Should the Lower Interest Rate on Stafford Loans Be Extended?
  • Read the U.S. News Debate: Is a College Degree Still Worth It?