At the beginning of this month, I traveled from the University of Iowa to Washington, D.C. to advocate for the College Transparency Act. I was invited to be a student panelist on the reintroduction of the Act after getting involved with the legislation through my work with the Association of Big Ten Students, an organization that brings together student government associations from the Big Ten schools. I packed my bags, rescheduled my midterm, and headed to D.C.
Upon first hearing about the College Transparency Act, I saw the content mostly as a data issue I would provide a statement for and move on, but I quickly realized how much I was missing. After learning more, I knew what students were missing was not merely an issue of simple consistency or data, but an issue of equity and accessibility.
The College Transparency Act would allow the federal government to create a database of information on colleges and universities across the country, including critical information on program success and alumni outcomes. This information would be available to students in one place and would even be filtered by important factors like age, gender, income, race/ethnicity, veteran status, and more. This would make the college decision process more transparent and simple, especially for students from backgrounds that have traditionally caused them to have a harder time navigating college.
As a senior in high school, I spent months looking up majors, student organizations, and unofficial ratings for colleges across the country trying to find the best fit and use of my time and money. After searching far and wide, I ended up choosing the University of Iowa, only two hours from my hometown. What I knew about the institution as a whole was limited – it was my parents’ alma mater, I liked the campus, and it would provide me with many opportunities even if I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do yet.
I had no idea how much information I was missing when I jumped into the deep end that is higher education. I didn’t know how people like me had fared at Iowa, where graduates with my major ended up working, or how I was going to create that path through college for myself. This lack of direction is not unique to just my experience. Students at every university do their best to navigate with what they’re given, but there is so much more we need. As leaders of today and tomorrow, college students deserve access to the support that comes in the form of vital information on where their colleges and programs can take them.
The College Transparency Act would provide this missing support. By allowing the federal government to create a database of influential information to be provided to students seeking to better themselves and their communities, the Act would drastically change higher education for the better. I knew it was important for me to go to Washington, D.C. so I could provide a student perspective on the issue, but I am not alone in caring. Every fellow student I’ve talked to about the Act has had the same reaction as I did when I first realized how big of an impact this change would have on students. When I talk about the College Transparency Act, everyone wonders where that information was when they were struggling with the weight of their college decision just a few years ago and always tells me how much they would have valued that resource that wasn’t available to them.
For students across the country, the path to college is a blind leap into the unknown. We rely on ratings from outside sources, advice from whoever will give it, or parents that remember a college experience from decades ago. If we are going to move forward as a country, we need to invest in higher education, which means providing for students. The College Transparency Act is a necessary and impactful step toward making college more equitable and students better informed, and if we want to invest in our future, it is a step we have to take.
Sarah Henry is a college student at the University of Iowa and serves as Director of Legislative Affairs for The Association of Big Ten Students.