Colleges face pressure to justify soaring tuition

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(MoneyWatch) Are new college graduates in the U.S. getting value for their increasingly pricey education? That's what a growing number of parents and students want to know as the cost of higher education continues tp rise while the job market remains depressed.

To that end, a bipartisan group of lawmakers have introduced a bill -- "The Student Right to Know Before You Go Act," sponsored by senators Ron Wyden. D-Ore., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla. -- that would require states to collect and disseminate data on what graduates in different fields earn. This push for greater job transparency is already accelerating in several states around the nation, including California, Virginia, Florida, Tennessee, Colorado, Arkansas and Texas.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, many colleges and universities are resisting efforts to release graduate earnings data to the public.  They argue that such measures should not be confined to new or recent college graduates, claiming that lifetime wages are a better gauge of educational value than a snapshot two or three years after students get their degrees. Focusing on at a young grad's wages in the short-term also could hurt schools that produce more liberal arts majors, which research suggests earn more over their lifetimes. 

Still, transparency advocates say giving families a better idea of the kind of compensation commanded by certain degrees help people make better decisions about their education. Greater public attention on the financial payback that students can expect also could encourage institutions to focus on the quality of education, rather than pouring money into athletic and other ancillary services that school use to justify sky-high prices.

One place to keep abreast of what's occurring on the state level is the website of CollegeMeasures.org, which is assisting state agencies in their efforts to make information about the earnings of graduates from their higher education programs publicly accessible.

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