Students should have the right to make informed decisions about college

Max Hurst

Why do students go to college? To expand perspective, seek new experiences or pursue knowledge for the sake of knowledge?

For many students, economic security is the primary motivator in seeking higher education, including opportunity for future employment and increased pay. The widely established fact by economists and other scholars is that on average, a college degree leads to higher lifetime earnings. However, this truism is not accurate for all degrees or programs. With such great variance in areas of study, major programs and academic institutions, there is also variance in students’ prospective job attainment or income earning.

How do students find out which degree will prepare them for the workforce or give them the best chance at a bigger paycheck? They don’t. This isn’t because students don’t want to. Unfortunately, there is no accurate or complete data on economic outcomes of different degrees. No one is able to gather the information necessary to compare degree programs on an economic basis — the same concept that motivates students to attend college in the first place.

This mainly results from the federal student unit record ban, which prevents anyone from gathering key information. It essentially forces students to make a blind gamble on which program will pay off.

Furthermore, this risky endeavor comes at a time when higher education has never been more expensive. Tuition and fees have increased 28 percent since the Great Recession in 2008, and the average graduate leaves school with more than $30,000 of debt.

Students are investing so much into education, but many are not getting the education and experience needed to acquire better employment and pay. Only 60 percent of students feel prepared to apply their knowledge and skills in the real world. More damning is that only 23 percent of employers feel students are prepared. These outcomes — in spite of the direct expectation of college supposedly bettering one’s situation in life — are simply unacceptable.

Higher education is one of the only decisions where consumers expect so much financial commitment with so little information regarding outcome and future performance. That needs to change. If the student unit record ban is repealed, a system can be crafted that would anonymously track individual students’ economic outcomes on a national level. Prospective students could compare degree programs with workforce performance, and policymakers and university administrators could effectively evaluate policies and programs to improve them throughout the United States.

Such a system is needed now more than ever. The financial risk associated with higher education has never been greater, and all students deserve the right to make accurate, informed decisions about their educations and futures.

Max Hurst

Minnesota Student Association, Federal Government and Legislative Affairs Coordinator