Through my work as a member of the North Carolina Senate Education and Higher Education Committee and the Appropriations on Education/Higher Education Committee, I am committed to help our state’s postsecondary students complete their programs of study and begin their professional lives not unduly burdened with insurmountable debt. All of these things are even more challenging amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. 

We are doing what we can at the state level to ensure our students are set up for success when they pursue a postsecondary degree. But more can be done at the federal level to ensure that students aren’t leaving school with debt and a degree that doesn’t actually provide the return on investment promised. And, as more people turn to higher education to compete for jobs in the COVID-19 economy, it’s even more critical that we do the work to ensure our postsecondary system is set up to serve students. 

Whether you chose to pursue a four-year degree, two-year certificate or technical training program, you should feel confident that the institution where you enroll will help you complete your degree and compete for jobs. Currently, there is no easy way for students or their families to assess and compare institutions across key metrics like enrollment numbers, graduation rates, and debt-to-income ratios. 

Not only is this information vital for students and parents, but taxpayers deserve to know how colleges, universities, and technical programs are using their money in the form of government funded grants and loans. Just last year, North Carolina received $2.1 billion in federal grants and loans. If we implement more robust accountability measures in our higher education system by making data available and accessible, we can show how institutions serve their students. 

Our state has 169 postsecondary institutions, including four-year degree programs, two-year associate degree programs, and institutions providing certificate programs and courses. We have fantastic institutions, producing qualified graduates and far-reaching research and other intellectual capital. But we also have a few bad actors. According to U.S. Department of Education data, 62% of postsecondary institutions in North Carolina graduate less than half of the students who entered its doors eight years prior. 

We can and should strive to improve these numbers. North Carolina voters are on the same page. 77% of North Carolinians believe we need basic guardrails in place th accountable and help prevent students from taking out loans or using taxpayer-funded grants to attend schools that operate in bad faith and leave students worse off. 

Leaders in Congress recognize the need for this reform, and I am grateful these bipartisan members of the U.S. Senate have introduced the College Transparency Act to strengthen the Higher Education Act, making the collection and dissemination of important data accessible to students, parents, and taxpayers alike. And one of our own is championing these critical reforms in our nation’s capital. Sen. Tillis, a co-sponsor of the legislation, understands the need for oversight and accountability in our nation’s higher education system. 

These reforms are a win-win for the entire postsecondary ecosystem. With this knowledge, schools can learn and adapt based on their performance. At the same time, students and parents can make the best decision for their future, knowing that the higher ed institution they choose is really on their side, and taxpayers can rest assured that their hard-earned dollars are not being squandered by bad actor schools or diploma mills that are only focused on profits. 

As COVID-19 continues to change how education will be delivered, it is my hope is that policymakers at all levels will stress the need for transparency and accountability with higher education institutions, at a time when students and families need it most. 

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