Transparency needed in higher ed
When I decided to run for the Legislature, an issue that concerned me was the spiraling-out-of-control cost of postsecondary education and the lack of public oversight and measurement of the return on investment to taxpayers and students.
I understood how important local control and responsible spending is to Nebraskans. I went on to examine the issue as a state senator on the Education Committee for six years, four of those as chairman. My pursuit has given me a unique perspective on the importance of accountability and outcome-oriented policies when it comes to big government spending.
With student debt and taxpayer support becoming a burdensome red-flag issue to Americans, it is past time to turn a spotlight on the spending habits of our postsecondary education institutions.
American taxpayers invest nearly $150 billion annually in higher education institutions. Unlike other institutions receiving significant taxpayer dollars, this massive investment comes with effectively zero conditions.
For decades, underperforming and predatory higher education institutions have been handed billions of taxpayer dollars with little oversight. The lack of guardrails has given bad actors a free pass to make a fortune off the backs of Nebraskans. In turn, this has dwindled down the competitiveness of our postsecondary institutions and academics, statewide and nationally.
The economic impetus for strengthening higher ed polices is clear. Increasing the number of students enrolling in and graduating from technical schools, colleges and universities with practical degrees that have economic value is a nonpartisan, statewide priority.
Higher ed is the largest producer of skilled labor in our state, and a weak school-to-work pipeline makes for a vulnerable economy. According to a 2021 Nebraska Higher Education Progress Report, preliminary estimates indicate that Nebraska’s total postsecondary enrollment decreased 3.1% between fall 2009 and fall 2020. Enrollments have been generally declining since 2010.
Given the sheer amount of public and private dollars entering these institutions, it makes no sense that some Nebraska universities are reporting program completion and graduation rates as low as 7%, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Outcome Measures survey.
To add insult to taxpayer injury, data from the U.S. Department of Education shows that 31% of higher ed institutions leave a majority of former students earning below that of the average high school graduate. This leaves young adults unable to pay back their loans, and less likely to participate as a consumer or stakeholder in our state’s economy.
Presently, at the federal government level, the bipartisan College Transparency Act introduced by Senator Scott of South Carolina is attempting to address the need for more accountability in higher ed. It does not threaten local control or create burdensome government red tape. Its intent is to modernize the college reporting system by requiring schools to report common-sense numbers that should, frankly, already be available.
Trustworthy statistics surrounding enrollment, program completion rates, students’ ability to pay down debt and post-graduate income earnings are self-explanatory. Reporting requirements like these has benefits for students, schools, prospective employers and our economy alike. By making critical information accessible to the public, students get a clearer picture of the financial burden they take on when enrolling.
I am on principle, opposed to expanding cumbersome bureaucracy. However, transparency and accountability are necessary tools of the vigilant citizen. I view the Federal College Transparency Act as a tool for Nebraska stakeholders when choosing a higher education institution that will lead to a solid return on their investment in higher ed. We state level lawmakers also need to step-up and do more. We can and must reform higher ed to protect our students.
Contact: Senator Groene 402-471-2729; email@example.com