Consumer Transparency for Virginia Colleges

transparencyDel. Tim Hugo, R-Centreville, has submitted a bill, HB 1980, that would bring more consumer transparency to Virginia’s higher education system. The bill would require all public four-year colleges and universities to maintain a tab or link labeled “Consumer Information” on the home pages of their websites. That tab or link would be updated annually and include the following institutional data:

  • Six-year undergraduate graduation rate for each of the past 10 years;
  • Freshman-to-sophomore retention rate for full-time undergraduate students for each of the past 10 years;
  • The annual percentage increase in tuition for each of the past 10 years;
  • The annual percentage increase in mandatory student fees for each of the past 10 years;
  • A link to the annual report on the use of student fees;
  • A link to post-secondary education and employment data;
  • A statement of the institution’s budget broken down by department for the current and previous fiscal years, with links to annual reports.

The bill is backed by a group called Partners for Affordable Excellence @ EDU. Colleges and universities are already required to collect and report most if not all of this information already to the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV) but it gets buried in the blizzard of data, and consumers don’t know it exists.

“We view this bill as a motherhood and apple pie bill,” writes James V. Koch, president emeritus of Old Dominion University and a board member of Partners for Affordable Excellence. Making the information readily accessible to consumers, he says, “will lead to better decision-making by students, parents, donors and legislators.”

Sen. Jeff McWaters, R-Virginia Beach, is sponsoring the Senate version of the bill.

Bacon’s bottom line: It will be interesting to see if Virginia’s higher ed lobby resists this bill. Will public colleges and universities engage in cartel-like behavior to suppress valuable consumer data? Or will those institutions that will be portrayed in the best light be willing to play along?

Consumers aren’t the only ones who need to view this data, by the way. So do reporters, bloggers and members of the public who want to hold these public institutions accountable.


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20 responses to “Consumer Transparency for Virginia Colleges

  1. there are two pretty significant issues here that are not directly obvious.

    1. – The first is the tendency of all schools from K-12 to College to build what I call data-swamp web pages where even to find simple things… you’re sometimes better off going to wiki but other things are not even provided at all or they are in such a way, it’s not information.. it’s data.

    and I’ll throw a simple challenge at anyone reading here. Go to your local school web page and find out 1. how much it spends over and above the the state requires for the SOQ match and 2. what is it spent on ?

    If anyone actually succeeds, PLEASE come back and post so we can all be able to point to at least one school system that does readily tell local taxpayers what their money is spent on – over and above what the state requires the match money to be spent on.

    and the second point here is this – The POTUS has proposed a national version of what Koch and Walters are proposing but (as usual) the critics are saying that Obama is imposing top-down govt and overriding what should be a local or state decision.

    the advantage of the POTUS proposal is simple – you have more than just Virginia to be able to compare.

    but then when we do this at the state level – are we not – ALSO using top-down govt to impose requirements .. “mandates” on these schools rather than let consumers decide ?

    Fundamentally – do we? should we – have govt impose top-down requirements on schools?

    these days – politics has gotten to the point, where we don’t trust govt, we don’t trust institutions.. we don’t even trust science.. but then we can’t seem to resist circling back to govt-imposed things – each year when the general assembly reconvenes.

    so we keep hearing that “govt is out of control” .. and the less govt the better – that argument used for payday loans for the poor – but then we have even more govt-imposed consumer protections desired for the folks who are not only not poor but well off enough to go to college!

    snark. snark.

  2. Oh – and WHERE is the “transparency” legislation that REQUIRES VDOT to provide a direct revenues versus expenditures to each city/town and county in Virginia so they know how much money they generate in transportation taxes and they know how much they got back ?

    where is that legislation?

  3. Go to your local school web page and find out 1. how much it spends over and above the the state requires for the SOQ match and 2. what is it spent on ?

    A few years ago, I asked my state senator to introduce legislation that would require both the school’s budget and the newspaper advertisement for the upcoming budget to contain both the mandated amount and the requested local funds for school operations. It passed and was signed into law. Unfortunately, very few do this and no Commonwealth Attorney or Attorney General will enforce this. The state does report annually this data, not only the Required Local Expenditure (RLE) but the Required Local Match (RLM) for those divisions that offer programs above and beyond the RLE for the basic SOQ accounts.$file/RD25.pdf

    Next report is due any day.

    As for the second part of the question, it is, according to the Educrats, spend on the children because “more is always better, and don’t you care about the children”.

    • Have we ACTUALLY found something that HCJ and I AGREE on?


      I think with all the tea party folks running around these days that not a single one of them in Va wants schools to disclosure what they spend local money -over and above what is mandated — is actually spent on.

      And not even fiscal hawks like Jim Bacon have carried that banner either.

    • Fairfax County Public Schools have fought for years against disclosing the actual costs for complying with state and federal mandates and the amounts proposed to be spent to exceed the mandates. If a business tried to sell stock or bonds with the internal standards used by FCPS, they would rightfully be prosecuted by the SEC. FCPS is clearly one of the most dishonest organizations in the state. Even the BoS is exasperated.

      • I’ve yet to see a school budget that does not mix the two … such that you cannot see what the mandated money is paying for and what the local optional money is paying for.

        all this talk about making colleges disclose their financials and hardly a soul in Virginia can tell you what their local school system spends their discretionary local money on.

  4. In addition to the above mentioned report that shows which divisions spend more than is mandated, courtesy of VDOE, The Commission on Local Government does an annual report on the fiscal stress of Virginia’s localities. Were one to compare the lists of divisions that lead the way in “excess” school funding, mostly cities, and compare that to the list of the most fiscally stressed localities, also mostly cities, they would see that those same localities end up on both lists. The latest Stress Report was just posted Tuesday. Of course the highest stressed are those with the highest “extraction rates” or Revenue Effort based upon their ability-to-pay, or Revenue Capacity.
    My city, Lynchburg, has the 3rd highest extraction rate and this year (FY2015) the taxpayers are funding 214% of the RLE. With this we get the 10th worst average SOL passing rates with the black students the 2nd worst in the state, the 7th worst on-time graduation rates with one in 5 students failing to get a State Board approved diploma within 4 years of starting the 9th grade. Their staffing levels per 1000 students are the 9th highest in the state, 30% higher than the state average. Our Educrats blame the poor performance on the EDs, and of course lack of money.

  5. TMT,
    Here is the Code of Virginia that requires the Schools budget notice to include the RLE.

    • Fairfax County Public Schools also violate established accounting standards by having employees as members of the school board’s audit committee and do not have any citizen representatives with financial expertise on the committee. School board members have been fighting this for years.

      The County, itself, follows this standard. I think the Schools’ actions are unacceptable. But it’s for the children!!!

      • The things you mention about schools TMT – is pretty much true down our way also… and I’ve checked other schools websites – like Henrico and Lynchburg and they don’t disclose what they spend the local discretionary money on – either.

        it’s not only about the “kids” – it’s what the priorities are (or are not).

        without disclosing what local money is being spent on – the people who pay the taxes don’t even know for what priorities.

        but VDOT is no better. The two “biggies” are Transportation and Education and in both cases – basic disclosure of spending is not done.

        and yet we have the tea pots and other screaming meemies running around talking about reining govt in… and all that rot.

        I think people are basically clueless to the major issues of our time – education, transportation and health care – and the politicians KNOW IT and so they play the voters for the rubes they are.. and get totally away with it.

        about the only thing they really know is how to get one of those orange plates with a snake on it or buy a gun at a gun show… ask them about education or transportation or health care and they launch into conspiracy theories.

        One of them – a high GS guy, told me that our transportation money in Fredericksburg had been “diverted” to NoVa and that he was positive because his elected delegate to Richmond told him that.

        I asked if he had references to show it and he said that he did not need them because his delegate knew and would not lie.

        this is what passes for critical thinking these days.

  6. TMT,
    Last post referred to newspaper posting of info. It should be noted that while I asked Senator Newman to make it the RLE amount, it got changed to the RLM.
    The law that pertains to it be included in the school’s budget (the RLM) can be found here;

    But unless you force your schools and county administrators to comply with these code sections, you need to get your County Attorney involved. Good luck!

  7. bottom line – no matter how little or how much a school system spends above the mandated match – you don’t know what they spend it on. You don’t know if they are spending it on sports or AP or smaller class sizes for at risk or what?

    A few months back – Henrico had a referenda on meals tax and it was said to be needed for schools but as far as I remember the schools never said what they needed it for specifically and the tax payers oked it.

  8. and there is the issue of govt here for the colleges.

    Jim makes a point on a regular basis – including when the UVA issue that govt should not be poking it’s nose into the affairs of businesses and colleges…

    then he switches gears and wants govt to “force” them to do something they don’t want to do .

    I don’t have a problem with govt being involved in most issues because I think govt is representing the interests of consumers.. but I think the same way about it for payday loans as I do college financials .. and college sex crime.

    but some Conservatives seem to argue one way on some issues then do an about face on others.. arguing strenuously THAT issue govt should not be involved… like whiplash sometimes!

    • Larry, Please note that I support legislation requiring *public* colleges and universities to report the data — not for private institutions to do so. Public institutions are creations of the state, and they continue to receive state support. The state supports them financially in order to advance public goals relating to workforce development, economic opportunity and other objectives. The public is heavily invested in these institutions as taxpayers and as citizens seeking higher education. It is a perfectly reasonable from a conservative perspective to demand transparency.

      There is nothing inconsistent about my principles — I am not a doctrinaire advocate of laissez-faire, no matter how much you try to paint me as one!

      • ……. and when it comes to the Clery Act or local schools staffing levels at poorly performing schools..???

        and you advocate tax dollars for vouchers but what standards ?

        I don’t think you are “doctrinaire” but I think you are inconsistent in how you apply your principles and how you tend to blame “liberals” for advocating govt-required disclosure and reporting for sexual conduct ..

        do you think you are totally consistent in applying your principles?

        for instance on the METRO deal.. what does “almost pay for itself” mean?

        especially when we have no such standards for other transport modes?

        and what should transit “pay for itself” anyhow if we want to treat it like the Europeans and Japanese treat it – i.e. “not” subsidized but necessary public services?

        and you call me a liberal. the guy who advocates cutting medicare, supports tolling… would require work from entitlement recipients, thinks our schools should be like European/Japanese schools – core academic only and everything else – fee based to the parents. No govt loans for college unless they are enrolled in a field for which there is a known demand.

        etc, etc.. and yes you are far to the right – out of the mainstream on some issues… aligned with the whacko-birds!!

        • Larry, The dialogue gets really frustrating when you make comments like this: “What does ‘almost pay for itself’ mean? especially when we have no such standards for other transport modes?”

          I have argued *ad nauseum* that roads, bridges, highways and transit alike ought to be operated on a user-pays/beneficiary-pays basis to the greatest extent possible. Do I really need to add that disclaimer to every transportation article I write?

          When I don’t follow 100% consistently on those principles, you accuse me of being inconsistent. When I do follow 100% consistently, you accuse me of being dogmatic. In all cases, I represent the failure of conservatism generally.

          • “… to the greatest extent possible. Do I really need to add that disclaimer to every transportation article I write?”

            it’s as bad as “almost pays for itself” if you have no specific criteria other than how you personally choose to hold your mouth from one scenario to the next… is it really a principle if you can’t lay it out in a way one can apply it to each separate project and get a definitive yes or no?

            don’t take this as knife-to-the-heart criticism.. we all do this.. at times..

            “When I don’t follow 100% consistently on those principles, you accuse me of being inconsistent. When I do follow 100% consistently, you accuse me of being dogmatic. In all cases, I represent the failure of conservatism generally.”

            well no. “dogmatic” is reserved for views that blame others but provide no real – practical and effective alternative.

            I do not know if you meant “failure of conservatism” or intended “failure of liberalism”

            but for me – the failure of Conservatism these days is a failure to come up with anything more than blame of the left when dealing with issues of which the right not only has no real alternatives themselves – they can’t even agree as Conservatives what to do.

            that’s a failure to govern. it’s gridlocking govt and refusing to make the tough compromises that must be made even if they are not “pure” to ones preferred ideology. Health Care and Immigration are two that come to mind but even in areas like transportation and education – the right seems unable to reconcile some of the realities..

  9. Meanwhile, back to the blog post at hand…I suspect that state university lobby will resist imposition of any requirement for anything, but I have trouble devising a sound case for them to plead. They’ll say that it will incur a cost to website services? Negligible. How much can they balk at making accessible something that is already publicly available?

    State universities both belong to the Commonwealth’s taxpayers and yet their consumer base is shopping a broad base of options, and the consumers do not all live in the Commonwealth. I see this is a very helpful tool for informed buying.

    • We’re ending up in the internet world where information that can be FOIAed that is in a very basic form and not formatted/organized in a form to provide informative information ..

      and the entity is not inclined to actually provide the data in a form that provides the level of information to serve a particular purpose.

      So the Colleges – and they are not the only entities, K-12 does the same thing – take the view that it’s not their responsibility to slice and dice the data for desired consumption and that is someone else’s job unless someone passes a law.

      There might be an honest question if tax dollars were not involved.

      A company would not feel compelled to provide more data than what the law requires to be on – for instance – a nutrition label and there is information not provided that people do want -but the law does not require it.

      With tax money – is there a absolute requirement for the entity to provide data in any number of desired formats or is it the responsibility of the group that wants the data to do that job?

      and I give a good example of this – and it is Richmond Sunlight – which seeks to take General Assembly data and synthesize it in different ways so that additional insights are gained that you would not have otherwise.

      Even then, there is an issue called “bulk data” that Waldo Jaquith has had to advocate for – just to be able to provide desired information.

      It might be interesting to have Waldo write a guest blog on this issue.

      In the mean-time, is it the responsibility of a college to provide certain data in a certain format for a purpose beyond it’s own needs?

      Should we have even more laws and regulations to force more spending of taxpayer money to generate and capture the bulk data that is needed to fufill a web site that provides nothing of value to the College itself?

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