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Students’ Right to Know is Making “Back to School” Better

Today, nearly 20 million Americans are preparing for next semester at a college or university. 

But there’s more ahead of them than just classes: hidden costs and fees, skyrocketing tuition, a post-graduation job market that doesn’t match the skills they’ve gained, and decades of burdensome debt.

Students’ Right to Know is a reform that aims to change all of that and to equip students with a more informed view of their future, and the tools they need to make the right decision in the present.

Students’ Right to Know 101

The heart of this reform is pretty simple: College isn’t the only path to success in life.

Helping students make a smart decision means arming them and their families with the facts they need at a critical moment, lifting the curtain on several factors that can help make a life-changing choice a little easier.

  • Understanding the true cost of a college education and a certification from technical schools can help students make a choice based on reality instead of on glossy college brochures.
  • Knowing the most in-demand jobs in their state can help students pick a path that will result in a rewarding career at the end, not just a piece of paper.
  • Being informed on the average student loan paymentloan default rates, and total student debthelps students take a broader view of their education, instead of just getting sticker shock when the bill comes due. Overall student debt in the U.S. has grown to more than $1.7 trillion, at an average of about $30,000 per borrower.

Students’ Right to Know aims to make this kind of information more easily accessible for students and their parents. State education departments should provide a wide range of information to help these difficult decisions, including up-to-date data about the current job market like the most in-demand jobs in the state, salary information, and education level required; cost transparency for major colleges and vocational schools, including student loan information; and a clear window into the alternatives to college, like military service, vocational schools, and careers that don’t require a degree.

Why Students’ Right to Know Matters

The perception that higher education is a prerequisite to a good-paying job has led to some very expensive realities for former students, especially in the form of student loan debt. 

Even in the best-case scenario where a student graduates with a degree and finds a job, fewer than half of bachelor’s degree recipients end up working in a job closely related to their major. 

More than half of students report graduating with some level of debt, and that debt can be a lifelong burden: Nearly a quarter of the total outstanding student loan debt is held by borrowers who are 50 or older. On average, it takes borrowers two decades to pay off their student loan debt.

And for a sizable number of students, the debt doesn’t even come with a degree—only two in five students graduate within four years. Far too many are paying back a sizable debt without ever earning the degree they expected.  

And even if everything does go according to plan, many students are hit hard by the realities of the job market. For several majors, the underemployment rates exceed 50 percent. For some majors, like criminal justice and performing arts, the underemployment rates even exceed 70 percent.

Students’ Right to Know: Progress

In the past few years, a dozen states have passed reforms to help students make the best choice for their future.

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a new law to create an online database, called “My Florida Future,” that shows students and parents the real earnings for degree programs one, five, and 10 years after graduation, as well as student loan burdens and earnings comparisons across all 12 state universities. 

Earlier this year, Virginia and Ohio passed Students’ Right to Know legislation that will make helpful information more accessible to students and families considering college in their states.

This reform isn’t just a no-brainer for students and families—it’s something that voters overwhelmingly support. A nationwide survey by the Center for Excellence in Polling found that 79 percent of voters support requiring high schools to inform their students about the average costs of college programs and student loans, the availability of non-college career options, and the most in-demand jobs. 

Bottom Line

It may be “back to school” season, but there’s never a bad time to empower students and families. Students’ Right to Know is a smart, simple reform that arms students and families with tools and information to make the right decision about their future—because higher education might not be the best choice for everyone.

More on Students’ Right to Know…

FGA: Students’ Right to Know One Pager

FGA: Students’ Right to Know Message Test 

Washington Examiner: Rather than forgiving student debt, hold the education establishment accountable

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