JEFFERSON CITY — Institutions of higher education would have to provide incoming fr eshman with certain information, including the cost of education and future earning potential, under legislation debated Monday by a House committee.
The purpose of House Bill 355 is to provide high school students with a compiled document of information pertaining to higher education avenues. The document would outline the cost of higher education institutions and ensure students were aware of different avenues to lucrative careers, such as trade schools, so they are able to make the best, most informed decisions for their futures.
“The idea here is compiling this pertinent information about education and jobs that is readily available in an easily accessible place for students and parents to access,” said Rep. Ben Baker, R-Neosho, during the House Higher Education Committee. Baker and State Rep. Chuck Basye, R-Rocheport, are both sponsoring versions of the legislation.
Baker spoke of a “one-stop shop” for outcomes of obtaining certain degrees or pursuing trade-based certificates or degrees. He said a lot of the information he’s requesting to be complied through the bill is data the government and other agencies already have. The issue is that the information is difficult to locate, scattered and not uniform across institutions.
According to Baker, there is a deficit of trade jobs in Missouri, and he thinks this bill could work to help counteract that. If high school-aged children knew about different avenues that could result in less debt and a higher starting salary, more young adults would consider these paths, he argued.
In general, the committee and those who testified for and against the bill were in agreement that it was a good idea to provide information to high schoolers about higher education options. On the other hand, concerns were raised about the specific language of the bill and how much it would actually cost to gather the information the bill requires .
When the bill originally came to committee last year before the COVID-19 pandemic struck and halted proceedings, it was estimated that it would cost as much as $5 million to gather the data necessary to enact the legislation.
Stephanie Willis, a lobbyist for the University of Missouri, said the school supports the intent of the bill. But in order for the University of Missouri to gather the required data, she said, the school would have to hire additional staff to keep track of graduates, send out surveys and monitor responses.
Another issue with the proposed legislation stems back to how the data would be collected. The language in the bill specifically states the data will be obtained through “self-reporting” measures.
This means in order for institutions to provide the information the bill proposes, they would have to keep track of alumni up to 10 years after they graduate. Then, they would have to send out surveys to these graduates asking about their salaries and current jobs, with no guarantee of a response or that the information is correct..
Paul Wagner, executive director of the Council on Public Higher Education, said during his opposition testimony that self-reported data is notoriously unreliable and difficult to collect. He also expressed concerns with the specific language in the bill.
“Self-reported data means we can only get the data if someone tells us. We can’t get it through another means,” Wagner said. “As written, this bill requires us to do the impossible. I don’t think that was the intent, but we just don’t have the capability.”
Baker said he is open to revising the language in the bill to make it more affordable and more realistic for outside entities to provide information.