On May 24, 2017, IHEP Vice President of Policy Research Mamie Voight testified before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Development at a hearing entitled, "Empowering Students and Families to Make Informed Decisions on Higher Education." Ms. Voight's oral testimony is below. Click here to access the full written testimony.
"Chairman Guthrie, Ranking Member Davis, and Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today.
"My name is Mamie Voight, and I am Vice President for Policy Research at the Institute for Higher Education Policy, or IHEP – a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that promotes college access and success, especially for underserved students. IHEP leads the Postsecondary Data Collaborative, a broad collection of organizations – representing institutions, students, states, employers, and privacy and security experts – committed to the use of high-quality data to improve student success and close equity gaps.
"Distinguished Members, the research is clear. Investing in a college education pays off. But while college is often a worthwhile investment, students and families, policymakers, and institutions can’t answer critical questions about which programs at which institutions provide an adequate return on this investment, and for which students.
"Before making other investments—like buying a home or car—we shop around, we perform inspections, we lift the hood, and we kick the tires. In other words, we ask questions. The college marketplace should be no different, but we lack the high-quality information needed for the market to function. We cannot answer critical questions about colleges, like:
- How many part-time and low-income students graduate?
- Do students transfer?
- How do students fare in the workforce?
"Students need these answers. So do policymakers – federal and state, who are charged with enacting good policies and stewarding taxpayer dollars. And so do colleges, which often cite data-use as a driving factor in helping them better serve students, especially underrepresented students.
"But policy barriers prevent these stakeholders from accessing information – even when the data already exist. Our data infrastructure consists of several datasets and multiple players. It is duplicative, inefficient, and cumbersome, and many students remain missing or invisible. We can and should do better.
"In recent years institutions and states have recognized the insufficiency of federal data and created voluntary initiatives to collect better information, documented in my written testimony. These voluntary initiatives illuminate data gaps and prove it’s possible to collect better data, but piecemeal voluntary reporting isn’t enough. We need a more complete solution. And a better solution exists.
"A secure, privacy-protected postsecondary student data system, like the one proposed in the bipartisan College Transparency Act and Student Right to Know Before You Go Act, would integrate existing federal, state, and institutional data sources into a more coherent, nimble, secure, and privacy-protected network. It would create better information that counts all students, while reducing reporting burden on institutions. More than 70 organizations, representing students, institutions, veterans, college access providers, and employers, have endorsed the College Transparency Act, recognizing that this system would create a more functional postsecondary marketplace.
"The federal government is uniquely positioned to compile better postsecondary information – even if non-federal entities disseminate it. For example, consider how valuable your weather app is. Privately developed weather apps are primarily made possible by data from the National Weather Service. Just as the federal government is uniquely positioned to compile weather data because it has access to things like satellites, it also is the best option for compiling data on education and the workforce – given the information it already holds.
"It is the only entity with comprehensive information on employment outcomes. In fact, the Departments of Treasury and Education have already linked education and workforce data to answer questions about students who receive federal financial aid. But those answers will remain incomplete without a system that includes non-aided students too.
"Student protection must be at the heart of any data system. It must protect their privacy, preserve their right to information, and secure their data. The data network should be limited to answer only questions of national interest about college access, completion, cost, outcomes, and equity, and data should be secured using industry leading protocols. Strong data governance should design the system to use data in compliance with the law, notify students, prohibit the sale of data or use of the system for law enforcement, and issue penalties for misuse. We can protect student privacy while providing students with the information they deserve – it’s not an either/or choice.
"Members, as you steward over 160 billion in taxpayer dollars to help students access and succeed in college, please consider the key questions you cannot answer. A more coherent student-level data system would address substantial shortcomings. And before students decide where to invest their resources, they deserve answers to these same questions.