‘Right to Know’ act brings vital data to students

By Editorial Board

Earlier this year, Sens. Marco Rubio and Ron Wyden introduced the Student Right to Know Before You Go Act, which would provide prospective college students with coordinated data about post-graduation employment rates and average salary. If passed, the bill would improve students’ ability to choose their college and major while considering how they will pay off student loans based on their anticipated income.

“At best, the information that students get today is incomplete,” said Wyden Sept. 19 at a panel discussion at the American Enterprise Institute. He added that while most of this data is already available, it is not gathered or reported in a coordinated manner.

The bill would synthesize already existing data and make states responsible for providing full, accurate information to students and parents regarding the employability and income of graduates from each program at any college. In many cases, this data is only reported by individuals and is often incomplete or hard to find.

Columbia currently reports employment rates and average income for alumni as a whole and for their individual career sectors, but not specifically for their major.  Putting states in charge of data reporting eliminates any possibility of data being manipulated or falsely reported.

The average student debt is approximately $25,000, according to The Institute for College Access and Success. Students know that they will be in debt, but they don’t always know exactly what the consequences are.

Although a college degree should not be viewed simply as a financial return on tuition, it is important for prospective students to compare their possible income levels with expected loan debt. Students shouldn’t necessarily be dissuaded by data that shows a low income rate for their chosen profession, but they need to plan for it. For example, Rubio said at the forum that he wanted to be a prosecutor after graduation, but the low income of that job would leave him unable to pay off his $125,000 of student loan debt.

“You have to be able to weigh [your expected income] against how much you’re going to borrow,” Rubio said.

That’s not to say students shouldn’t aspire to a profession they are passionate about because it’s low-paying. There are many jobs requiring a college degree that won’t pay well, regardless of what college you attend, but transparency is always important, even when the revealed information isn’t positive.

Debt may be more manageable for students who have some idea of employment rates and the median  income of others who have graduated from their program.  As student debt rises, such information is valuable for students to prepare for the future.

High school seniors may not be thinking about debt and income when choosing a college. While that shouldn’t be their primary concern, it is something to plan for, because this decision will affect the rest of their lives. If this bill were signed into law, prospective

students would have a much-needed source of reliable data that would help them make informed choices, which could help many optimize the outcome of their college education.