When Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., graduated from law school, he faced the reality of $125,000 in student debt. The now junior U.S. senator said he never regretted making such an investment in his education, but wishes he had more information before enrolling in school about the job and salary prospects after graduation.
Now Rubio and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., are making a bipartisan push to create a centralized resource for prospective students and families to find the type of information Rubio said would have benefited him as a young adult. The senators spoke about their bill, The Student Right to Know Before You Go Act, and transparency in higher education in general at an event co-hosted by the New America Foundation’s Education Policy Program and the American Enterprise Institute.
The bill, if passed, would bring data — most of which currently exist at the state level but are inaccessible to the public — together in a comprehensive and comparable way. The information would be at the institution and program level and include factors such as the chances of students graduating in four years, the average amount of debt accumulated, the number of students employed after graduation, and their average salary.
“At best the information that students get today is incomplete […] at a time when an education is going to be the second biggest investment that a young person makes,” Wyden said. “What we’re seeking to do is make sure that for the first time, this information is usable, truly usable, for students and parents as well as taxpayers in making these decisions.”
As noted by the experts at the event — even with rising tuition and a shaky job market — it’s still true that people who have completed some form of higher education are better off than their less educated counterparts. For example, someone with a bachelor’s degree is still expected to make roughly $1 million more over the course of their lifetime than someone with a high school diploma.
But students can’t enroll in just any college or program and expect to make that extra million. The senators and experts at the event said it’s important for students to know what new skills and areas of expertise are in demand and what their professional prospects are. That way, they can feel more confident about what to expect in return for their investment in college.
“I think one of the things we need to start grappling with is that kids are now making decisions at 17 years of age that have dramatic impacts on them when they’re 55 in terms of how much they owe and where they work,” Rubio said. “This is designed to create more information in a coordinated way to allow families to make wise decisions.”
Watch video of the event above or on AEI's website.