Everyone should have the information they need to make informed decisions about how to navigate their own education and careers. Statewide longitudinal data systems (SLDSs)—which securely connect individual-level data over time across early childhood, K–12, postsecondary, and workforce data systems—contain information that could help students answer questions about their postsecondary options. But because SLDSs are not yet built to enable robust access for individuals, students can’t easily compare college side by side with other postsecondary options, such as apprenticeships or vocational education programs.
This year, as part of the Data Quality Campaign’s annual review of education and workforce data legislation, we saw three states pass new laws that take steps to leverage data in support of individuals making the transition from high school into postsecondary experiences.
In a landscape where—according to DQC’s poll of high school students conducted by The Harris Poll—only 35% of high school students reported receiving information about their post-high school options and a resounding 80% expressed the need for better access to information to feel more confident about their post-high school paths, these legislative initiatives could not have come at a more crucial time.
- Alabama’s SB 176— the Students Right to Know Act of 2023—requires the Alabama Commission on Higher Education to create an interactive online tool (Student Horizon Database) that enables individuals to find information about the college, university, and career and technical education programs which they are interested in. This tool will include average program costs, financial assistance, graduation rates, salaries for graduates, and more—all critical information that will enable students to make informed decisions regarding their education and professional futures when evaluating options in their state.
- Texas’ HB 8 and HB 2920 change existing law by mandating that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) make available comprehensive information comparing state higher education institutions to all Texas students, regardless of their educational institution and without requiring them to request it. This change will aid prospective postsecondary students in evaluating the value of degree and certificate programs, including cost, program quality, completion rates, and related details. HB 2920 specifically requires the Higher Education Coordinating Board to develop one or more electronic tools or platforms to help prospective students make sense of the information.
- Washington’s SB 5593 will ensure that the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) shares directory information for all graduating high school seniors with the state’s four-year universities, community colleges, and technical colleges so that the institutions can inform all students about postsecondary education opportunities. Previously, higher education institutions would only get information about the roughly 40% of students who took pre-college placement tests or have to pay a separate fee for information about students who did not take the tests. Now that institutions will be able to reach all students, the information provided will enable high school students to gain a comprehensive understanding of postsecondary education opportunities within Washington state.
Students are asking for more information to navigate their academic journeys and chart their paths after high school. Without access to this data, they risk being left in the dark. Alabama, Texas, and Washington took critical steps forward toward ensuring students can access that vital information about education opportunities, outcomes, and services.
State, district, and local education leaders must continue to prioritize providing students access to data and providing the resources they need to use it effectively. These new laws are powerful tools in the ongoing effort to support education-to-career pathways and provide students with the bright and informed futures they deserve.
For more information on how states can support these transitions and facilitate the kinds of access that people need to make education and workforce decisions, including a roadmap of 10 recommendations, read DQC’s vision for data access.