Better Data on the Horizon: An Analysis of Evolving Student-Level Data Legislation
Policymakers have introduced a number of bills to build a more complete and modernized postsecondary education data infrastructure in recent Congressional sessions. These bipartisan, bicameral efforts signify an increased acknowledgment that access to and use of high-quality data by students, institutions, policymakers, and researchers have enormous implications for student success. This clear and continuing focus on data quality is a result of the inability of current datasets to answer critical questions about today’s higher education system and student pathways.
Creating a federal student-level data network is one proposal to effectively enhance the quality of higher education data. Since a ban on this type of system was enacted in the 2008 reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, five separate bills have been introduced, calling for student level data collection and improved data linkages across the federal government. The Higher Education Affordability Act, three versions of the Student Right to Know Before You Go Act, and the most recent legislation, the College Transparency Act - introduced in May 2017 - all call for improved data systems and metrics that count all students with an aim to advance student success.
to read the brief.
PostsecData Members Applaud Proposed Student Loan Servicing Collection
Twelve members of the Postsecondary Data Collaborative (PostsecData) co-signed a letter that applauds the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) proposed Student Loan Servicing Market Monitoring initiative. The initiative will collect information from both private and federal student loan servicers on their loan portfolios and borrower repayment outcomes, including plan type and status. The PostsecData letter outlines how the proposed initiative will identify barriers to successful loan repayment and improve outcomes for all student loan borrowers, especially those at greatest risk of delinquency and default.
The Student Loan Servicing Market Monitoring Initiative will provide valuable information in four key areas:
- Private and federal student loan outcomes. By disaggregating each repayment plan type for completers and non-completers by servicer this initiative will produce data that enable comparisons of how various servicing agencies serve borrowers most at risk for delinquency and default, while also helping to identify borrowers’ barriers to repayment.
- Barriers to enrollment in Income Driven Repayment (IDR) plans. The initiative will provide a comprehensive look at borrowers who have submitted applications to enroll in IDR or recertify their income. The collection will measure approval time from the date the borrower first applied for IDR and will reveal whether each application is “in-process” or incomplete. This data collection will include the number of days required to approve the application, the number of incomplete recertification applications, and the number of applications abandoned prior to submission.
- Deferments and forbearance. The initiative will gather information on the number of borrowers in deferment or forbearance, supporting efforts to prevent borrowers from remaining in one of these non-payment statuses unnecessarily for extended periods of time.
- Servicer support for borrowers. The initiative will include data on both borrower repayment status, like how many students or dollars are in delinquency or default, and consumer assistance, tracking how struggling borrowers are doing and what servicers have done to aid them. For example, the initiative will collect information on communications initiated by both borrowers and servicers, and will track borrower account activity, including submitted payments, repayment plan enrollment changes, recertification of income for IDR, and loan status changes. or.
The Student Loan Servicing Market Monitoring initiative takes important steps to track borrower outcomes and will provide valuable information in improving the student loan system for borrowers. The initiative especially helps low-income students, who are most likely to borrow, as well as students with low incomes after college, who are most likely to face challenges with loan repayment. This proposal is one critical step toward addressing the student debt troubles that plague many Americans. Furthermore, these data will provide servicers with information to help them improve their practices, and ultimately improve repayment outcomes for the borrowers whom they serve.
to read the letter.
Gainful Employment Data Provide Public Value
The Department of Education (ED) recently released the first debt-to-earnings rates for career training programs, a requirement of the Gainful Employment (GE) rule. Under current regulation, data collected under this rule exist for both accountability and transparency purposes. While the GE regulations themselves are a contentious topic on Capitol Hill, greater transparency in higher education can only benefit students, families, and policymakers. Students have a right to know their potential post-college outcomes and to understand how colleges and programs serve students. Policymakers appropriate billions of dollars for higher education financing annually—fiscal responsibility should demand their interest in program-level data, like debt-to-earnings rates, earnings, repayment rates, and cohort default rates.
The recently released GE data include the debt-to-earnings ratio, along with important underlying or contextual data, like mean and median annual earnings and median debt. Because the rate alone may not resonate with students and families, these contextual data points help consumers understand the practical meaning behind the rates, making them useful for someone making a decision about her future in higher education. For example, a potential student is more likely to understand that a program’s graduates typically earn $40,000 after taking out $20,000 in debt than that the program’s debt-to-earnings ratio is 0.50.
These data on student outcomes provide a value to the public, especially for low-income and underserved students, who often begin their college careers with less “college knowledge” than their peers. The addition of these data to the public sphere has the potential to narrow this disparity. Outcome data like earnings and debt-to-income ratios illuminate whether student and government investment in the program yielded acceptable results and can serve to inform choices. The importance of these data in promoting transparency should not be understated, as the results show how career-training programs serve their students. Particularly for the nation’s 21st century student population, outcomes matter.