My original plan wasn’t to attend college. The alarming rate of college graduates saddled with student debt without career-centered jobs was enough for me to not want to attend an institution of higher education.
I watched my older sister, a first-generation college student and first-generation American attend a private arts institution with little help in navigating key aspects of her education like selecting a school, choosing a major, and anticipating how to manage her debt.
My sister’s experience, one that we celebrated as a huge achievement but which left her in a lot of debt, showed me that too many young people say yes to college blindly.
That’s why I was excited to see the College Transparency Act, or CTA—a bipartisan, bicameral bill introduced in Congress. If passed, this bill would make key metrics available to students: graduation rates, loan repayment rates, and employment outcomes.
The hefty college dropout rate shows that there are serious problems in a system that forces students to make life-defining decisions blindly and disproportionately disadvantages students who are new to it. With CTA, students can access the information they need before they decide to take the higher education plunge.
After a year of struggling to build a career without a college education, I decided to look into college. Debt-shy and determined to pick the most affordable route to get my core credits, I first enrolled in a two-year school.
Through my research, I learned that the University System of Georgia had a strong credit transfer program between the community college system and the state’s four-year schools. I ultimately transferred to Georgia State University under this program.
Once there, I joined the Student Government Association where I gained important insight into the needs of the student body. I found that most of my fellow students enrolled in school to increase their chances of starting a career. But I also noticed that a lot of students didn’t have the necessary information to make smart decisions in college, particularly about the broad range of majors that colleges offer and what those majors mean for employment prospects.
For me, after years of pursuing the most affordable option, I realized that I had a deep passion for politics, and my higher education goals grew beyond just getting a degree for as little money as possible. The ability to make a difference became very important to me, and I wanted my higher education to not only reflect that passion but to make me employable in that field.
I did what students are “supposed” to do. I looked at my strengths and interests and aligned them with majors and potential jobs. I tried to decipher the path between this decision to pursue my passion and a future career on my own. But it wasn’t easy, and too many students feel forced to blindly choose a career based on the latest list of “10 best majors in America.”
The CTA would drastically change students’ access to information to help them decide on their college majors. When students know the graduation rates of a school’s particular program, they’ll be more inclined to align their educational path with one that has set students up for success in the past. Having more information improves choice and productivity—I’ve seen it firsthand.
Georgia State University has earned a reputation for leveraging its internal data to help students at risk of dropping out. It was recently recognized for conferring more bachelor’s degrees on African American students than any other college in the country. It’s clear that when schools are open about their strengths and the programs that best serve students, they see the results reflected on graduation day.
In Georgia, which has one of the largest African American populations in the country, the African American/white attainment gap has shrunk by 1% over the last 10 years. That may not sound like a lot, but it’s bucking the national trend where gaps are growing. Imagine what could be accomplished on a national scale if we empowered students with outcomes data before they walked in the door or committed to a major, and then clearly and transparently tracked student progress toward graduation with interventions at known points of risk.
On my educational journey, I’ve often asked myself, what is the real purpose of a college? If the answer is to provide education to all students and to prepare them for a successful life and career, then there is much work to be done to meet that goal. The CTA would finally give students like me the information we need to make one of the most significant decisions in our lives: where to invest in higher education to pursue our passions and secure our financial future.
—Briana Stanley is a Georgia native and a junior at Georgia State University where she is a student leader studying politics.