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Warner discusses Student Right to Know Before You Go Act

11/25/2013, 3:44 p.m.
U.S. Sen. Mark Warner discusses college affordability issues addressed by his ‘Know Before You Go Act’ proposal during a roundtable at the Richmond Public Library with 40 students, parents and counselors on Mon., Nov. 25, 2013. [Photo by Beth Adelson]

RICHMOND -- U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) led a spirited discussion about college affordability issues in Richmond today with students, parents and guidance counselors. Participants agreed they could benefit greatly if they had more access to better information when making college application and enrollment choices. The roundtable conversation with about 40 high school and college students revealed considerable anxiety among some young people and their parents about the high cost of higher education.

“I’m quite concerned about college costs because I’ll have two children in college at the same time,” said parent Rose Stith-Singleton of Richmond. Her daughter, Christine, told Sen. Warner she wants to study literature in college, but is worried about the financial strain on her family.

In May, Sen. Warner joined Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) to introduce The Student Right to Know Before You Go Act. The bipartisan legislation would streamline existing institutional reporting requirements to give students and their families more tools to easily compare graduation rates, student loan debt, employment prospects and potential future earnings as they make important decisions about higher education.

“Our bipartisan legislation will connect the information already collected by states and schools, and make it accessible directly to students as they’re making one of the most important investments they’ll make in their lifetimes,” Sen. Warner said. "This bill isn't going to solve every problem. The cost of higher education is going up at a faster rate than anything else in our economy. But this will be an important step toward helping you be smarter consumers of education. You should be able to find out what degrees and colleges lead to good-paying jobs."

Akilah Sami, a guidance counselor at Richmond’s Open High School, asked if The Student Right to Know Before You Go would also cover for-profit and private colleges. “A lot of my kids dream big and want to go to a private school, but they need that information about what they're getting themselves in to."

The answer is ‘yes,’ Sen. Warner said. The Student Right to Know Before You Go Act would provide students and their families with the opportunity and additional tools needed for a more complete picture of the value of their education, public or private.

Although many schools already collect this information, they do not consolidate it with data collected by other schools, states, or organizations so that effective comparisons can be made. State and private analyses typically only examine first–time, full-time students, leaving out many who attend community and vocational colleges. The legislation would direct the Secretary of Education to make the information available online in an easily accessible format. Using information that is already gathered, the Student Right to Know Before You Go Act would allow student records to be matched with employment and earnings data. The results would be highly accurate and informative.

Rising educational costs and uncertainty in the job market have made the stakes higher than ever for individuals looking to invest in higher education. According to the College Board, the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2012–2013 school year was $29,056 at private colleges, $8,655 for state residents at public colleges, and $21,706 for out-of-state residents attending public universities. Two-thirds of college seniors who graduated in 2011 had student loan debt, with an average of $26,600 per borrower.