Washington -- If ever there was compelling evidence demonstrating the need for the Secretary of Education to enforce the Student Right to Know Act*, it has presented itself in recent days:
• George Washington University has admitted to its student newspaper that it takes students' ability to pay tuition into account in its final admissions decisions. GWU had previously misled students by claiming admissions were need blind.
• College clients of a student net-price calculator company have requested that the company block student access to another such company's net price calculator, inhibiting students from comparing college costs.
• Some colleges are using federally-collected FAFSA information to deny students admission or to cut their financial aid.
This is just the most recent evidence that the "enrollment management" industry is out of control. The integrity of many colleges has long-since been compromised; federal funds in the billions annually have been wasted and abused through unethical financial aid packaging procedures; even the nation's economy has been damaged by plunging students into levels of debt that can hobble them for life.
Colleges and the enrollment management industry have been able to obfuscate and misinform students, families, and taxpayers by insisting -- without challenge from the U.S. Department of Education -- that their procedures and practices constitute proprietary information and are not subject to disclosure. This is demonstrably false. The Student Right to Know Act already provides that colleges must disclose to students the details of how amounts of financial aid are calculated and the methods used by the colleges to determine those amounts. "Methods" means nothing if not the disgusting practices of the enrollment management industry.
What is the Secretary of Education waiting for? With one letter to the higher education community, the Secretary of Education could beam disinfecting sunshine into the shady world of student admissions and financial aid. Such action would be welcomed by the remaining colleges and financial aid administrators who believe colleges must not just teach ethics (and transparency) but practice them as well.
* The Student Right to Know Act, as used here, includes financial assistance information as currently codified in 20 USC 1092; the implementing regulations are at 34 CFR 668.42. These provisions also deal with graduation rates, campus crime, and a variety of other matters setting forth the obligations of colleges to inform students. The codification includes legislation passed with various titles over several decades.