Response to Data and Transparency

AACS GRC Submits Responses To Senate HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander


On Monday, March 23, 2015, Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pension Committee Chairman released three staff white papers and requested feedback from the higher education community on issues related to the pending reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.  The issues – Accreditation, (Institutional) Risk Sharing, and Data Collection and Consumer Information, were couched in the form of "Concepts and Proposals" that the HELP Committee were likely to be considering, based upon proposals already introduced or being discussed from both sides of the political spectrum (Democrats, as well as the GOP).

Interested and affected parties – including students, parents and others interested in higher education – were given until last Friday, April 24, 2015 to submit their comments and recommendations, which, as noted by Chairman Alexander, "will be considered during the bipartisan reauthorization process that Senator (Patty) Murray and I will be developing."

Wasting little time the AACS Government Relations Committee began its evaluation of the three white papers, discussed general positions in relation to our overarching 2015 HEA Reauthorization "CARE" Recommendations, and set out to complete the development of responses on behalf of our students and schools.  Ad hoc meetings and a series of conference call resulted in three rather lengthy responses which we are proud to share with you below.

We hope that you will take the time to review our efforts on your behalf, and provide us with your input, as deliberations on these issues are just beginning, and there is always time to revise and extend our remarks as the HEA Reauthorization process moves forward.  And moving forward it is!

On Tuesday, April 28th, Senate HELP Committee Chairman Alexander announced his intent to host a Full Committee Hearing entitled, "Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act: The Role of Consumer Information in College Choice" next Wednesday, May 6th. One and possibly as many as two panels of witnesses will be called upon to discuss in greater detail their views on the information outlined in the "Federal Postsecondary Data Transparency and Consumer Information" white paper – with determinations of who will be asked to testify still yet to be determined.

While AACS does not expect to be called upon in this instance, we are prepared to do so if called upon.  If not, Chairman Alexander, Ranking Member Murray, and the HELP Committee at the very least have our community's comments and recommendations to refer to. 

Your GRC will be monitoring the hearing upon our return home from the AACS Spring Executive Retreat and will be providing you with a summary of the hearing and the key takeaways in relation to our response.  Stay tuned and we hope to see you this weekend in Phoenix!

The American Association of Cosmetology Schools'

Response to

Chairman Lamar Alexander's

Federal Postsecondary Data Transparency and Consumer Information

Concepts and Proposals White Paper

 

 

OVERVIEW

The American Association of Cosmetology Schools (AACS) would like to begin by thanking Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee Chairman Alexander for challenging the higher education community to provide feedback on this, and the other two, HEA Reauthorization White Papers.

AACS has chosen to reproduce only the sections of the White Paper that focus upon direct proposals and provide "AACS' Response" to them based upon AACS member schools perspective and our previously submitted 2015 HEA Reauthorization Recommendations and our always fluid CARE Initiative.

AACS looks forward to continuing to work with the Chairman and the rest of the HELP Committee in the exploration of this and other critical issues to be considered as part of the pending reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

 

Federal Postsecondary Data Transparency and Consumer Information

Concepts and Proposals

Goals:

  1. Ensure public access to accurate, comparable data on institutions of higher education.
  2. Ensure information is purposeful and consumer friendly to enable students and families to select the college or university that best fits their needs.

 

Strategy:

  1. Determine the proper role of the federal government in postsecondary data transparency, including assessment of what data is truly needed and the role of the federal government in protecting student privacy.
  2. Develop postsecondary data policy that captures better and more inclusive data.
  3. Identify critical data elements and digestible formats to make information more useful for consumers.

AACS' Response

AACS is proud to support Chairman Alexander and the HELP Committee in the pursuit of the majority of concepts and proposals detailed within this White Paper. 

 

Eliminate data collection or disclosures unrelated to the needs of federal program management or consumer decision-making

  1. Eliminate federal data collection on items unrelated to student financing, success or safety.

AACS' Response

AACS supports Chairman Alexander's proposal and suggests that the best place to begin would be with many provisions within IPEDs which do not fall into the categories listed above.

Still others would include various information contained in the College Score Card, Student Financial Aid Shopping Sheet, and the list goes on and on.

But the one most important to AACS would be Chairman Alexander and the HELP Committee's immediate review and elimination of many of the unneeded and unnecessary disclosures required under gainful employment.

  1. Study the current usage of federal postsecondary data and tools by policymakers, prospective students, and families -- not researchers -- in order to determine what information can be eliminated.

AACS' Response

AACS believes that this is a very prudent first step in attempting to determine what information can be eliminated and support steps to undertake such a study as soon as possible.  Similar to the consumer testing proposed later in this White Paper, AACS encourages Chairman Alexander to include this in the development of the pending HEA reauthorization base bill.

  1. Allow third-party organizations that wish to continue data collections and reporting on information identified as no longer in the federal purview to obtain and utilize old federal survey components.  Also, allow third-party organizations that wish to continue to encourage public disclosures of information not captured by the federal government to collect and maintain them.  These non-governmental organizations seeking institutional data or information would need to obtain the voluntary participation of colleges and universities.

AACS' Response

AACS does not oppose this proposal and understands why it is important to enable third-party's to continue to have access to data for research and analytical purposes.

  1. To prevent overgrowth of data collection in the future, create a subpart in the Higher Education Act to govern data collections and disclosures as well as to keep track of those which are authorized by law.

AACS' Response

AACS places this proposal amongst the most important contained within this White Paper, and offers our endorsement for its inclusion by Chairman Alexander in the base bill to reauthorize the HEA.

Increase data quality and transparency for federal program management and for informed consumer decision-making

  1. Allow the new Outcomes Measures Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System survey that is the result of the 2008 Reauthorization to go into place before moving forward on new improvements.  Based on the limitations of the new Outcomes Measures survey, evaluate the next iteration of data quality improvement to move towards making sure all students are counted.

AACS' Response

AACS supports this common sense proposal.  We encourage Chairman Alexander and the HELP Committee to pay particular attention to whether or not finally address concerns expressed by the entire education community regarding the use of only first-time, full-time student data.

  1. Require the Department to conduct analysis and public reporting on return on investments in the Federal Student Aid program using existing administrative data in the National Student Loan Data System. 
  • This analysis could include information by institution or program level.
  • This analysis could distinguish between grant recipients and loan recipients regarding student success
  • This analysis could distinguish between student income levels.
  • This analysis could include measures of student success, such as:

Degree completion

Outstanding debt and default

AACS' Response

While AACS has some reservations regarding this proposal, we would like to continue to work with Chairman Alexander and the HELP Committee on modifications which would allay our concerns.

While we recognize that the Department already has the right and the obligation to conduct this type of data analysis and public reporting, we remain concerned that the huge volume of reporting and disclosures currently being request by the Department – which would be existing administrative data by the time we anticipate completion of the 2015-2016 reauthorization of the HEA – will be problematic depending on how the Department chooses to use and likely present the data.

Having articulated our more general concerns, we do have some comments and recommendations based upon the various forms the analysis could take on.

First, we like the fact that the analysis could be used to distinguish between grant and loan recipients.  We believe that it is crucial that the data and consumer information recognize the institutional risk associated with the student population served.  

We will discuss this later in our response, and reiterate multiple times in the context of the Risk Sharing/Skin-in-the Game White Paper. 

Second, we offer additional concerns with the use of the data to distinguish between income levels.  As we will discuss in depth several times later in our response, we do not believe that some of the data generated provide a fair and balanced picture of students' income.  We would want to work with Chairman Alexander and the HELP Committee to ensure that faulty data is not allowed to be used to represent our students’ income levels.

And finally, we would respectfully request that you change the concept of measuring student success based upon "program" not "degree" completion.

3.  Redefine federal student data to be more reflective of the broad demographics of those enrolled at higher education institutions.  This would mean altering the information that institutions would report to the federal government.

AACS' Response

As AACS repeatedly emphasized in our response to the Risk Sharing/Skin-in-the-Game White Paper, we believe that it is of the utmost importance that data collected relies upon as much demographic information as possible.

Our primary assertion remains, that any attempts to apply additional risk, beyond that which an institution already is assuming, must be assessed against the population served and the demographic information of those populations.

We believe that this expansion of information can help inform and effect the consideration of those proposals and will provide additional value to the intent of this White Paper as well.

4.  Determine what data can be collected as statistically representative samples and what data requires comprehensive collection.

AACS' Response

AACS once again supports this proposal and the efforts on the part of Chairman Alexander and the HELP Committee to thoroughly assess and evaluate what information should be collected and as importantly how it should be collected.

5.  Rely on third-party data that is not technically federal data in order to evaluate institutional success.

  • Consider requiring that non-federal data on student success includes all students, be provided in the aggregate, as well as by agreed upon subgroups, with some federal oversight of privacy, collection and statistical practices.
    • Institutions could be allowed to submit information from existing databases maintained by third-party organizations or states to provide a fuller picture of all students' success and progress towards degrees or certificates.

Institutions could permit third-party organizations or states to maintain and report success measures on behalf of institutions to the federal government.

AACS' Response

AACS supports this proposal and the ability to use the third-party data, like information available from certain state's licensing boards, for the purposes of helping assess institutional success.

As Chairman Alexander and the HELP Committee knows, AACS believes that our membership's success – and honestly that of all cosmetology institutions – should be based upon the percentage of our graduates who are successful in passing the mandatory, state licensure examination required for work within the industry.

Furthermore, we support the concept within the proposal that this information should provide access to all students, not just federal student aid recipients. 

 

Make federal data useful and usable for consumers

Usefulness:

  1. Utilize existing Bureau of Labor Statistics data to provide average regional salaries for professions, so students and families can determine if their desired program of study or academic concentration aligns financially with their enrollment decision.

AACS' Response

AACS strongly endorses this proposal and recommends that, in addition to average regional salary information, the proposal be expanded to include national averages as well. 

While we agree that it is important to provide more localized information to help inform the consumer of the financial benefits of choosing a specific discipline or occupation close to where they reside, it is also reasonable to assume that some individuals will seek employment outside of their respective region.

Moreover, we applaud Chairman Alexander and the HELP Committee for their recognition that this information and similar information the consumer can find on O*NET are invaluable for service industries like our own where earnings information and the reporting of those earnings are admittedly not an exact science.

The Department of Labor and the Bureau of Labor Statistics are aware of these inherent inconsistencies which arise from improper and illegal underreporting of tips. 

Our industry continues to support efforts on the part of the IRS to enforce declaration of all income and AACS member institutions emphasize it throughout their programs.  We have re-doubled efforts to find ways to more adequately promote the reasons why this is important to not only the licensed professional but also our institutions – and will continue to do so. 

We must give the increased emphasis on earnings under the gainful employment regulations and the problems associated with the undeniably low aggregate earnings being published by the SSA under the gainful employment regulations.

We hope that through the inclusion of this provision in the base bill of the pending reauthorization of the HEA, we will be able to present the consumer with more accurate information. 

  1. Use already collected administrative data with in Federal Student Aid to provide student success information regarding aid recipients.
  • Consider  allowing the Department to explore collaborations with other federal agencies to create limited data linkages across restricted databases in order to obtain post-college updates.

AACS' Response

AACS opposes this proposal, as noted later in this response, collaborations between agencies is not always a simple process and often times gives rise to incomplete, and even inaccurate data.

We believe that given the considerable limitations experienced under the gainful employment regulations and attempts to link FSA and SSA have been a complete failure as institutions are unable to verify, challenge, or appeal the information upon its release.

If Chairman Alexander and the HELP Committee insist upon pursuing this proposal, we urge you to construct very clear standards of what your expectations are, how the information is to be determined, and, most importantly safeguards which give institutions the ability to assess, verify, and challenge the data.

  1. Create a student unit record system at the federal level.  Direct the Secretary of Education to develop data collection and reporting methods to add limited student level measures that provide information regarding the success of former students in the market.

AACS' Response

While opinions vary within the AACS membership, more individuals appear to oppose recommendations to develop a student unit record system and simply do not trust the Department to effectively collect and manage the data.

  1. Create a national graduate survey to voluntarily collect information from students regarding their careers post-graduation.

AACS' Response

AACS supports this proposal and believes that the responses, more so than many of the data elements currently collected will provide valuable information.

Usability:

  1. Consolidate the various access points from federally managed postsecondary information into a single portal housed at the Department with coordination from other interested federal agencies.

AACS' Response

AACS has serious reservations with this proposal and would urge considerable caution if such an initiative were to move forward. 

As Chairman Alexander and the HELP Committee is aware, the Department has already established its College Affordability and Transparency Center, which includes among other pieces of information the College Scorecard, College Navigator, Net Price Calculator, Transparency List, and 90/10 Information.

As one of many portals, a quick review and surf of the information provided indicates that the data provided is:

  • Inconsistent – as the College Scorecard does not provide data for institutions who do not offer a degree;
  • Skewed towards public sector and private, non-profit institutions – College Navigator and 90/10 data; and
  • Confusing – as the Net Price Calculator and Transparency List provide information and listings which attempt to boil an institution down to a single characteristic.

Couple these concerns with the implications of adding information from other agencies and you multiply the concerns.

  1. Conduct extensive consumer testing of what information is needed and how it should be presented.  Apply this research to any federally produced consumer tools and make the research available publicly to voluntarily inform the market.

AACS' Response

AACS highly recommends that this proposal be implemented as soon as possible.  We would go so far as to recommend that, to the degree possible, the testing be implemented now, and used to inform the development of a number of the other proposals contained within this White Paper.

  1. Require a single institutional disclosure page for prominent inclusion on college and university websites.

AACS' Response

AACS strongly supports this proposal and appreciates the efforts of Chairman Alexander and the HELP Committee in seeking to simplify and consolidate all of this information.  We believe that it will most certainly help to alleviate the confusion and inconsistencies perpetuated by the use of so many different disclosures.

  1. Require institutions to prominently place and simplify net-price calculators.  Or, create a universal net-price calculator.

AACS' Response

AACS opposes both net-price calculator proposals.  It has been our experience that the consumer, be they student, family member, consumer advocate, or even guidance counselors do not find the information to be helpful or of value.

AACS believes that this may be due to the variations in the way in which institutions have interpreted their reporting obligations under the net-price calculator, with some institutions presenting information based upon the academic year, while other like our own present information based upon the cost of the program. 

Or,  it could be the fact, as evidenced by the proposal, that many institutions – although required to do so – have failed to prominently place the calculator on their website.

While we concur that these arguments lead one to the proposal of the development and implementation of a universal net-price calculator, AACS reiterates our contention that this is not an effective consumer transparency tool. 

 

Constraining the federal role:  Protecting privacy and preventing abuse

Ensuring privacy:

  1. Safeguard the federal ban on student level data.  Do not maintain federal data on individuals outside of the necessary data to operation Federal Student Aid programs.   
  • Consider supporting collaboration between Federal Student Aid and the Social Security Administration to determine earnings outcomes among aid recipients with strict privacy protections regarding sample size for aggregate statistics.
    • This collaboration could require only onsite record matching.
    • This collaboration could require random samples of aid recipients from each institution, instead of all recipients, to limit exposure.

AACS' Response

As noted previously, AACS member institutions have divergent views on whether or not single unit records and individual student level data – beyond that which is required to properly award and administer the delivery of FSA – should either be available for assessment and research purposes or remain strictly safeguarded and protected.

Those in support of opening up the information to greater scrutiny suggest that, for the most part, the information available already pierces the veil of student privacy, while those that support the safeguard believe otherwise.

Where our community remains united is in our very aggressive opposition to the collaboration between FSA and SSA in an effort to determine earnings outcomes among aid recipients.  This visceral negative reaction is a manifestation of all institution's frustration and concern that we have no way to verify or appeal the data published by the SSA.

Further, while we appreciate efforts to mitigate these concerns by suggesting that these collaborations could limit the assessments to subsets of the data, we still believe that this proposal will be highly problematic and will fail to provide the useful and accurate information.

As AACS has shared with Chairman Alexander, the HELP Committee members and their staff throughout the gainful employment deliberations, within service-related industries and occupations, such as barbering, cosmetology, massage therapy, culinary, and guest relations, there is the very real potential for the underreporting of earned income.

This underreporting results in skewed data which we strongly contest does not reflect the true earnings potential of the licensed professionals our sector educates.

Thus, we continue to express our frustration for any efforts to use collaborative data between FSA and SSA for purposes of determining students’ potential earnings in the aggregate, through onsite record matching, or random samples.  We simply do not believe that such data accurately reflects our students true earnings.

  1. Create an exception under FERPA and allow some new student level data to be collected for all students, including those who do not receive Federal Student Aid, due to the potential power of the data in the market.

AACS' Response

AACS supports this proposal and suggest to the Chairman and the HELP Committee that in the construction of the legislative language in the base bill that the use of the term, federal student financial aid applicants, may be the easiest way to cover all students, including those who do not receive FSA.

Our rationale in making this recommendation is in support of Chairman Alexander's FAST Act and the proposals contained within the legislation to provide for greater awareness of potential aid eligibility beginning in high school and the completion of the FASFAA by all students while still in high school.

While this would not necessarily catch students who withdrawal prior to completion of high school, applicants would most certainly cast a wider net than prior focus on FSA participants.

 

Preventing the misuse of data and top down accountability:

  1. Require any new data collections to be authorized by law, as the Department can currently require new data collection from institutions that are not outlined in statute.

 

AACS' Response

AACS enthusiastically endorses this provision and urge Chairman Alexander and the HELP Committee to include it, along with the other provisions contained within this section of the White Paper in the base bill to reauthorize the HEA.

  1. Prohibit the Department from creating new metrics from federal data without authorization from Congress.

AACS' Response

AACS whole-heartedly endorses this, and the other proposals detailed in this section and urge Chairman Alexander and the HELP Committee in incorporate them into the base bill to reauthorize the HEA. 

  1. Prohibit the Department from regulating to create new metrics, without authorization from Congress.

AACS' Response

AACS considers this to be the most important proposal in all three of Chairman Alexander's White Paper, rivaled only by those which immediately precede it and follow it in this section and the creation of the subpart in the HEA to govern data collections and disclosures.

 We cannot begin to express how vigorously we endorse this proposal and urge the HELP Committee's support for its inclusion in the base bill to reauthorize the HEA.

  1. Require that any Departmental adjustments to metrics be made public to ensure transparency regarding the results before and after modifications.  Also, provide legal recourse for institutions in regard to arbitrary action by the Department.

AACS' Response

AACS' endorses  this proposal as well, and like the three proposals which proceed it, urge Chairman Alexander and the HELP Committee to include this provision, and the entire grouping of provisions in the HEA reauthorization base bill.