Transparency Consensus

WASHINGTON — A proposal to require states to collect and disseminate data on college graduates’ salaries seems to be attracting the rarest of accolades in Congress: bipartisan approval. For colleges, concerned about growing federal regulation, it’s cause for concern.

In a speech laying out a wide-ranging Republican agenda on domestic issues last week, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor mentioned few specific legislative proposals. But a rare name-drop happened in his handful of sentences about higher education, when Cantor praised a bill introduced by Senators Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, and Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, that would enlarge state-level data collection efforts to link graduates’ salaries back to their colleges and majors.

That bill, the Student Right to Know Before You Go Act, was first introduced a year ago. Until Cantor’s endorsement, it seemed consigned to the same fate as most of the other higher education bills in the Senate: a quick death in committee. The imprimatur of the House’s second-highest ranking Republican suggests that transparency — requiring colleges to provide more information on what students will pay for a college education and what they can expect in return, from monthly student loan payments to postgraduate salaries — could become a rare point of accord between Congressional Republicans and the Obama administration.

For many colleges, the emergence of this consensus would be unwelcome news. Colleges have generally viewed many of the Obama administration’s transparency efforts, such as a “shopping sheet” intended to make financial aid packages easier to understand, as unnecessary regulatory burdens. Requiring states to collect and publish data on salaries by majors, a project already under way in some states, is even more fraught.

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