As Veterans, we are trained to rely on intelligence before making significant decisions. Data is a necessary advantage, and the more data the better. Thankfully, over the last decade, significant progress has been made in the collection and analysis of crucial student outcomes data that directly reflect the quality of an institution and its programs. So, why aren’t we leveraging this information for the betterment of Student Veterans?
Legislators and policymakers will deflect and say it simply takes time to develop and implement regulations based on these data. We believe these data alone, if made easily accessible and intuitively presented, would do far more to serve and protect Veterans than any regulation could. Furthermore, this could be done immediately by the Department of Education.
To truly look after Veterans would be to provide intuitive and accessible data that focuses on what matters: Student Outcomes. “Student Outcomes” means exactly that: how do students perform after graduating from a specific program? We measure their performance through a few metrics. These include Repayment Rates (the percentage of students that are paying back their loans), Graduation Rates (the percentage of students that graduate from a program), and others.
One could spend their whole career explaining the pros and cons of each approach to measuring Student Outcomes, though there are two that seem most relevant to Veteran Students today: the Median Debt and Median Earnings of a program’s graduates. These two Student Outcomes metrics are the constituent parts of a proposed regulation called Gainful Employment.
Unfortunately, the proposed regulation for Gainful Employment is too limited in scope, as it only applies to career and technical programs, and the regulation itself is highly contested concerning what ratios, benchmarks, and sanctions would best serve students. However, simply publishing the Median Debt and Median Earnings data in an intuitive form, and expanding the scope to include these data for every program that is GI Bill eligible, would meet the same goals as the regulation itself, without the complexities and bureaucracy that come along with it.
Knowing the expected debt incurred to finish a program as well as the future earnings that the program can provide is what is most important to Veteran students, and simply publishing these data from every GI Bill eligible program would be the most effective safeguard of Veterans’ benefits. Why? Education policies and regulations are a “snapshot” of current market forces, trends, and behaviors. Regulation and policy do not anticipate the future well, as they cannot take into account future changes or innovations in higher education, and, historically, they lack nuance. While they are necessary, they can quickly become outdated or ineffective. Finally, they do not directly address the problem of the “disadvantaged consumer”, which is the position Veteran students find themselves in as they try to navigate all the options marketed to them from institutions of higher education.
Committing to transparency by publishing Gainful Employment data for every GI Bill eligible program does account for future changes and innovations within higher education, while clearly highlighting to Veterans quality programs of training and education that are worth their earned benefits. This would further compel institutions with poorly performing programs that graduate students with burdensome debt and too little earning potential, to modify the cost and curriculum of their programs in order to stay competitive in the marketplace.
At the end of the day, Veteran students do not care about complicated ratios in regulations, but rather whether a school’s program can walk the talk. Giving Veterans the information they need to know how they will fare in the job market, and what debt they are shouldering to accomplish their educational goals, will empower Veterans to succeed in higher education and beyond.