The World Education STOCK

COOS COUNTY — Some senators are trying to help college students.

“Deciding where to go to college shouldn’t be based on guesswork,” said Oregon Senator Ron Wyden in a press release. “The Know Before You Go Act puts the power back in students’ and families’ hands by giving them the opportunity to make the best possible choices for themselves about where to spend their hard-earned dollars. Our updated, bipartisan bill empowers students and families without forcing tradeoffs that sacrifice individual privacy or data security.”

Wyden, along with senators Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) introduced updated legislation to provide “critical information to help students, families, policymakers and taxpayers better understand the costs and outcomes associated with higher education.”

It’s called the “Student Right to Know Before You Go Act” and it makes data available to anyone looking to attend college. That information includes a college or university’s graduation rate, debt level and how much graduates can expect to earn. All of it would be broken down by “individual institution and program of study.”

The World asked Southwestern Oregon Community College to take a look at the proposed bill.

SWOCC’s vice president of instruction, Ali Mageehon, had pieces she liked in the bill but concerns as well.

“What concerns me is anytime legislation like this comes up, we’re looking at hard cost values of education in a particular way which discounts all the other ways we might look at the value,” she said. “This is very much focused on workforce, which is fine. At the same time, there’s a lot of value in the liberal arts and humanities side that sometimes can’t be costed out. How do you value critical thinking skills?”

She agreed that colleges and universities need to be held accountable and prove that students are getting jobs, but pointed out that much of the data this act would present to perspective students wouldn’t necessarily be complete.

“We struggle in community colleges to collect data,” she said. “We don’t have good longitudinal data systems in Oregon. Right now at SWOCC we do a lot of dual credits where students get a lot of college credit while still in high school. Unless we track those students individually, there isn’t a good system between the K-12 system, us and the workforce.”

She hopes that from this legislation, it will lead to providing better systems to track this data.

“Currently, prospective students have to make costly and critical decisions about furthering their education based on information that is often inadequate, inaccurate or both,” the release stated. “For example, many states try to publish similar information, but the data typically only looks at first-time, full-time students or students who remain in the same state after college. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Education makes available to the public a small slice of institutional data through its College Navigator.”

Not only that, but she stated that SWOCC can get a hold of some state employment data but not always if graduates are self-employed and it’s even harder to get it if graduates move out of state.

When asked what SWOCC’s data would look like through this bill, Mageehon said the graduation rate is 39 percent.

“Compared to a lot of other community colleges in Oregon, that’s a great graduation rate,” she said. “What should be noted is that this bill will look at timed completion as well. At a community college, we have a different population. An 18-year-old right out of high school means college is their focus and a two-year time frame is realistic. For someone going back to school for the first time in 20 years, it will take longer to get through.”

SWOCC recently underwent an economic impact study. It showed that every $1 invested there resulted in $5.90 in higher future earnings, which is an annual 18.3 percent return on investment.

“People should know that this bill is in response to years of profit institutions advertising in ways that weren’t ethical, that spending $40,000 on a degree would get people a job and we can’t guarantee that,” she said. “In terms of students knowing before going to college, there is value in that but there may not be a lot of students who can make great decisions just off this.”

“Wyden, Rubio and Hunter have introduced versions of the bill in every Congress since 2012,” the release stated.

Reporter Jillian Ward can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 235, or by email at Follow her on Twitter: @JE_Wardwriter.