For years, Washington has failed to make universities accountable to the students and taxpayers funding them. This failure was epitomized by the 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act, which forbade the Department of Education from creating a “student unit record system, an education bar code system, or any other system that tracks individual students over time.” The bill, argued the New America Foundation’s Kevin Carey, sought to “prevent public officials from asking honest questions about what, exactly, taxpayers are getting in exchange for their support.” Though both Republicans and Democrats have recently called for accountability measures on the federal side, it’s unclear that they’ll make progress anytime soon.
Where Washington has failed, however, Texas already has succeeded. When it comes to Texas public higher education, knowing the truth could make you free–debt-free, that is, or, if not entirely free of debt, perhaps less burdened with it than the average college graduate today.
Texas is credited with having “the most sophisticated and publicly available higher-education data set in the country.” In 2004, Governor Rick Perry signed an executive order which asserted that “the public has the right to demand complete accountability for its investment in institutions of education.” Accordingly, the order, entitled “Relating to accountability of higher education systems and institutions,” calls on the state’s public universities to “provide the citizens of Texas, the Governor, and the Legislature with the information necessary to determine the effectiveness and quality of the education students receive at individual institutions.”
This wasn’t just talk. Last year, the Texas Legislature passed Texas House Bill 1296, which requires the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) to “prepare information comparing institutions of higher education in this state and post the information” on THECB’s website. This information is to be provided to any “public school student who requests the information.” The mandated information includes identifying “postsecondary education and career opportunities, including information that states the benefits of four-year and two-year higher education programs, postsecondary technical education, skilled workforce careers, and career education programs.”