Communications, Federal Advocacy, Research

Legislative Update: State Data Tools Must Meet Students’ Needs

Legislative Update: State Data Tools Must Meet Students’ Needs

This year’s state legislative sessions are in full swing, with 44 states currently in session. Team DQC is monitoring more than 100 education and workforce data bills and counting. An early trend we are seeing is one we’ve been tracking over the last two years: state legislators are considering bills that would make data about state postsecondary and workforce pathways available to students and families.  

Many of these bills take after the “Students’ Right to Know” model, which generally requires state agencies to compile and make data available to help students make decisions about their education and career. This session, we are monitoring Students’ Right to Know legislation in three states (MD, OK, and VA). Since 2020, we have seen seven states (AR, AZ, KS, KY, ME, TN, and WV) enact Students’ Right to Know laws. Typically, Students’ Right to Know bills require state education agencies to publish state data on issues that students often consider when they make decisions about college: 

  • average cost of attending a postsecondary institution 
  • student loan information, including total student loan amounts, average monthly payments, and default rates
  • postsecondary outcomes, including job earnings after completion  
  • information on high-demand careers and salaries

In general, a transparency-oriented policy approach, in conjunction with thoughtful implementation, is a good way for state legislators to use their role to help students make more informed decisions about their futures. Transparency is essential as high school students consider their postsecondary and workforce options. When students have access to the critical information they need, they are empowered and able to make informed decisions.  

But data tools are only useful if they meet user needs, and legislators pursuing transparency policies should consider strategies incorporating user feedback into the design of new tools. For example, legislators in Mississippi are considering the College Sticker Price Act of 2022 (MS HB 464), which requires the Mississippi Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning to create a universal net price calculator that would allow students and families to determine the total net price for any postsecondary institution, including community colleges and technical and vocational programs. Notably, this legislation requires that state agencies responsible for publishing the calculator conduct consumer testing and incorporate results into the design prior to publishing it. This includes gathering feedback from students, families, postsecondary institutions, counselors, and nonprofits.

Data policies will have more impact when they center user needs, which enables users to navigate and access all the data they need to be successful. Transitions from high school to college and career are already filled with so much uncertainty, which has been exacerbated over the past two years of the pandemic. As more state legislators consider bills to make pathways data available to support individual decisionmaking, they should incorporate mechanisms for stakeholder feedback. For more considerations for crafting effective data policies, see our legislation principles.