EDITORIAL: Bill to provide basic college data unneeded, flawed

Congress has proposed a bill that would require colleges across the nation to provide more information to students and parents about the average cost of attendance and financial aid packages provided, the Chicago Tribune reported Monday.

The information would be included in an online database in addition to with institutions’ graduation rates, faculty and student demographics and other key information.

Apparently, somebody forgot to inform Congress that several prominent Web sites offering that information already exist.

Postsecondary resources such as College Board, Peterson’s and the Princeton Review are not only well-known but considered go-to sites for parents, high school guidance counselors and students. They already provide the information Congress thinks is so rare, including admissions standards, graduation rates, student and faculty demographics, cost calculators and financial aid statistics.

Lists of academic programs and degrees, housing and community information and direct links to institution Web sites are also available at such sites, and many even offer student feedback.

With all of this data available to students, parents and educators for free, Congress should not be wasting time drawing up legislature to duplicate what is already provided by reliable and trustworthy sources.

Further, it is a disservice to all postsecondary institutions to mandate superfluous reporting duties without consideration of how much money and labor it would cost.

But there is another drawback to Congress’ supposed solution to student and parent woes: it would not be accurate. In addition to requiring that certain information be included in a governmental online database, the bill states that an annual list of the institutions with the largest percentages of cost increase must also be compiled.

The problem is that schools with the sharpest increases in attendance cost are not necessarily the schools with the highest costs.

In Florida, for instance, many colleges have made incremental tuition increases over the past year in response to budget cuts, including USF, where the Board of Trustees approved a cost differential in March that would allow a 15 percent tuition hike in a single year. Florida’s institutions are still some of the cheapest in the nation, but would probably be on Congress’ list of “bad guys” simply because of the percentage increase.

Such a list would not provide students and parents with comprehensive information about colleges; it would provide misleading information based on a faulty and narrow aspect of an institution’s cost.

The bill isn’t just an unnecessary misuse of time by Congress. It places unnecessary stress and costs on institutions to comply with redundant reporting requirements while imparting ambiguous and deceptive information to the public.