Business / Education / National / Technology / Virginia

Warner, Wyden, Rubio introduce legislation to empower students as consumers and showcase new privacy-protecting technology

~ Updated legislation allows students and families to make informed decisions about how to spend their higher education dollars while protecting student privacy ~

WASHINGTON – With the cost of college at an all-time high, U.S. Senators Mark Warner (D-VA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced updated legislation on Thursday, Nov. 29, to provide critical information to help students, families, policymakers and taxpayers better understand the costs and outcomes associated with higher education.

The bipartisan Student Right to Know Before You Go Act makes data available to prospective college students about schools’ graduation rates, debt levels, how much graduates can expect to earn and other critical education and workforce-related measures of success. Importantly, under the bill, these outcome measures would be available and broken down by individual institution and program of study. The bill also protects student privacy by requiring the use of privacy-enhancing technologies that encrypt and protect the data that are used to produce this consumer information for students and families.

“For college-bound students, choosing where to enroll and what to study are critical choices. Yet students and their families don’t have access to all the information they need to know whether they are making a smart investment,” said Sen. Warner. “Students’ choices of school and program have a host of real-world implications, including on their earning potential, likelihood to graduate, and accumulated student loan debt. This legislation does more to protect student privacy, while making meaningful, contextualized information readily accessible to students as they make key decisions about their futures.”

“Deciding where to go to college shouldn’t be based on guesswork,” said Sen. Wyden. “The Know Before You Go Act puts the power back in students’ and families’ hands by giving them the opportunity to make the best possible choices for themselves about where to spend their hard-earned dollars. Our updated, bipartisan bill empowers students and families without forcing tradeoffs that sacrifice individual privacy or data security.”

“A college education is one of the most important investments that many students and families will make in their lifetime,” said Sen. Rubio. “Students could benefit from a comprehensive system detailing the projected costs and financial outcomes of the school and area of study the student is planning to pursue – before they take out thousands of dollars in student loans. The Student Right to Know Before You Go Act could help American families make better informed and more cost-effective higher education decisions.”

Currently, prospective students make costly and critical decisions about furthering their education based on information that is often inadequate, inaccurate or both. For example, many states try to publish similar information, but the data typically only looks at first-time, full-time students or students who remain in the same state after college. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Education makes available to the public a small slice of institutional data through its College Navigator.

The updated bill requires the use of secure multiparty computation (MPC), an advanced encryption technique, to generate statistical data based on student information from colleges and universities as well as loan and income information from government agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Department of Education. The process ensures the protection of the underlying data, so no entity is forced to “give up” sensitive information in a form that is accessible to others.

Sen. Warner has introduced several bills to improve transparency, accountability, and affordability in higher education, and help borrowers better manage their student loan debts. The Dynamic Student Loan Repayment Act would make income-based repayment the default option for borrowers. The Employer Participation in Repayment Act would allow employers to apply pre-tax income to help their employees with student loan payments. Finally, the Empowering Students Through Enhanced Financial Counseling Act would promote financial literacy by providing students who are recipients of federal financial aid with comprehensive counseling services.

Reps. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), Scott Peters (D-CA), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), and Andre Carson (D-IN) have introduced a companion bill in the House of Representatives. Sen. Warner previously cosponsored legislation by the same name in the 113th and 114th Congresses.

The bill text can be found here. A summary and chart of the bill’s key provisions can be found here. A section-by-section summary of the bill can be found here.