The College Transparency Act Overlooks Student Preparedness and Foreign Influence While Opening the Door to Federal Mischief
On Friday, the House of Representatives approved the College Transparency Act with bipartisan support. It creates a “student data system” to be overseen by a Federal Advisory Committee; the data also go to the IRS, the Defense Department, the Social Security Administration, and the Labor Department, among other places.
The National Association of Scholars shares the concerns expressed by North Carolina’s Congresswoman Virginia Foxx, Republican Leader of the House Committee on Education and Labor, who commented:
The more information the federal government has, the more they can control and that is exactly what this amendment is about—more control. From registries to lists, databases to files, bureaucrats would have unfettered access to pry into the lives of Americans. No amount of public relations spin from supporters can hide the indisputable fact that this amendment is not about ensuring transparency and accountability.
Indeed, the text of H.R. 2030 appears to be a bureaucrat’s dream—Committees, Commissioners, surveys, data elements, reports, re-evaluations and so forth. If knowledge is power, the Congresswoman is right that the bill gives the federal government the chance to take over even more of American higher education than it already has.
But just as noteworthy is that the information sought seems either duplicative or unnecessary for a federal mandate, while the information it prohibits would actually be helpful. For example, “required data elements” include: student enrollment, retention, transfer, and completion measures, full or part-time status, age intervals, gender, programs of study and, of course, race and ethnicity.
Much of this data is probably already maintained by schools or at least available to those who inquire, while other areas seem fodder for mischief. More information about race and ethnicity? This focus simply fuels the neo-racism and ethnic tensions already on the rise on campus and elsewhere.
What’s more, the bill is not only uninterested in other, more reliable indicators of educational success but prohibits the gathering of such information: “PROHIBITIONS: The Commissioner shall not include...student discipline records...secondary education data...[and] postsecondary entrance examination results.” Yet this is precisely the type of information that might help screen for possible drop-outs, later student loan defaults and a general mismatch between student and school that gets young people off to a bad start in life. Without this focus, universities get turned into “retention machines, with no regard for academic standards,” in the words of David Randall, NAS Research Director.
Just as egregious is the prohibition on information regarding “national origin status for students or their families.” This is objectionable because the transparency most needed from colleges today is about foreign influence and also foreign money. If Congress is going to collect data on higher education, information about foreign donations, foreign students, and foreign contracts must come first. Why? Because America deserves to know if its higher education system is for sale to the highest bidder overseas, including China, a potential adversary.
The National Association of Scholars has already documented in great detail the use of Chinese-run campus centers or “Confucius Institutes” (though the name changes) that allow China not only to control what students learn about their history and culture but also give the country access to American research and technology.
Section 117 of the Higher Education Act of 1965 already requires schools to disclose foreign gifts of certain amounts. But according to a 2020 Education Department report, Section 117 is flouted with impunity such that over 6.5 billion dollars went undisclosed by schools, which are only too happy to take the money and run.
America must stop this university attachment to—if not dependence upon—foreign revenues that compromise higher education’s role in the American public interest and open the door to foreign powers, enabling espionage and theft. NAS believes that a school representative should certify under oath that the school has complied with Section 117 and, additionally, that Section 117 should be strengthened by requiring donor names and transaction documents and also by lowering the threshold gift amount to be disclosed from $250,000 per year to $50,000.
The NAS message to Congress on the College Transparency Act is clear: Start over.
Write a law that empowers American citizens, not the federal government, and that serves America's interests, not those of foreign countries.