Three Things You Need to Know about Transparency in Higher Education

Sunshine Week provides an ideal opportunity to call for transparency in a sector that rarely demonstrates any: higher education.  Transparency is essential to harnessing consumer choice to reduce costs and ensure that everyone understands the value of the degree obtained. Here are three reasons why everyone should care about transparency in higher education:

  1. Transparency allows the public to hold public universities accountable for use of taxpayer dollars

Taxpayer dollars fund public colleges and universities. These government institutions should be held accountable for how they spend taxpayer funds. An ALEC model policy, the Higher Education Capital Projects Transparency Act, would hold public colleges and universities accountable to citizens through their legislators.  The policy requires public colleges and universities to:

develop and promulgate procedures for maximum utilization of existing facilities, to make data on the average weekly usage of classrooms and laboratories available on its website in a format clearly comprehensible to the public, and to hold public discussion of each proposed capital construction project exceeding $10,000,000 in total cost.

This measure encourages public university officials to carefully use the funds they have, since they know the public is watching.

  1. Transparency allows potential students and parents to learn the value of the education they are purchasing before they commit to an institution or course of study.

Most students and parents carefully consider their higher education investment decisions. They need to be informed consumers if they are going to make wise choices. ALEC model policies, the Informed Student Document Act and the Higher Education Transparency Act, are designed to ensure hardworking families have the information they need.

The Informed Student Document Act requires state universities to publish online and include in student information packets the following:

  • “Sticker-price” tuition relative to other institutions
  • Net price, after grants and scholarships, relative to other institutions
  • Retention rate relative to other institutions
  • Graduation rate relative to other institutions
  • Average student debt relative to other institutions
  • Loan repayment rates relative to other institutions
  • Employment potential relative to other institutions.
  • Average starting salaries for each academic major (gleaned from national employment surveys).

The Higher Education Transparency Act requires public colleges and universities to publish the following online for each course offered: a syllabus, credentials of regular instructors, all associated course costs, and a department budget report showing operational expenses.

  1. Transparency in higher education allows potential employers to assess the meaning of the college grades of potential employees, allowing them to determine academic caliber of that potential employee.

Employers frequently face difficulty in determining whether a potential employee’s high GPA indicates superlative talent or just that the student took undemanding courses. The transparency provided by the ALEC model Honest Transcript Act would be very helpful to employers trying to fairly evaluate prospective employees’ academic records. This policy requires “all public colleges and universities to include on student transcripts – alongside the individual grade the student received for each class – the average grade given by the professor for the entire class.”

Transparency is important in higher education for taxpayers, students, parents and employers. ALEC model policies appropriately hold universities accountable for their use of taxpayer money and ensure everyone is able to better understand the value of the degree being offered. More transparency in higher education would be a huge benefit to the public at large.

In Depth: Education

An excellent education has long been recognized as key to the American Dream. Unfortunately, the current monopolistic and expensive K-12 education system is failing our students, leaving them unprepared for college, careers, or life. Similarly, our higher education system is leaving students with higher debt burdens and fewer career guarantees…

+ Education In Depth