Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act: Strict Regulation Leads to Information Overload

This month the US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions held a hearing on the Higher Education Act, which was originally passed in 1965. The primary topic for the duration of the two hour hearing was the collection and dissemination of data from colleges and universities.

The federal government mandates that institutions of higher education release a lot of data. Colleges and universities collect data, report it to the federal government, and make it available to the public. Some of that information is vital for high school students in their search for the right college or university, and some isn’t.

What information is most important? Is that information readily available to students, or is it buried in 900 page binders and needlessly confusing reports? These are questions the 22 senators addressed, lead by Chairman Alexander and aided by the testimony of four individuals with experience in the field.

Chairmen Alexander read a letter from a university president attesting that there is more regulatory pressure now than ever before, and reported statistics saying 90% of workers in higher education administration find the current regulations burdensome. Chairman Alexander also held up thick binders to provide a visual for the amount of information schools are required to collect. And they looked heavy.

The general consensus seemed to be that when too much information is collected, the process becomes over-complicated, and the information of real importance becomes lost. High school students should be able to easily access important statistics about the colleges and universities they are considering, including information about financial aid, admissions rates, and retention and graduations rates, without sifting through junk numbers.

What is more, Dr. Mark Schneider, Vice President and Institute Fellow at American Institutes of Research, admitted that the obsessive collection of data carries privacy concerns. We have previously seen the dangers of the federal government invading the privacy of students by collecting data at the K-12 level in association with Common Core. The federal government has no business with the personal and potentially sensitive information of students. We should all be wary.

Are we really willing to sacrifice our privacy for data that’s unimportant to the government and unhelpful to high school students? As a college student myself, I think the answer should be a resounding no. We need a less complicated system, fewer mandates, and easier access to important statistics for high school students looking at colleges and universities.

Dear federal government, relinquish your hold on institutions of higher education, and let them do their thing! Excessive regulations are holding back schools and students.