Education Department issues rules late, delays implementation of disclosure laws

Schools will not have to release graduation information until 2003

Waiting to see the graduation rates of your classmates? Well, you better not hold your breath. Unless, that is, you can hold it for six years.

You might have heard about something called the Student Right to Know and Campus Security Act of 1990, a federal law that requires most private and public colleges and universities to make available to current and prospective students certain information. Although the part of the law that requires schools to publish the on-campus rates of certain types of crimes has received a lot of publicity in recent years, many student journalists do not know that the law also requires schools to publish graduation rates. (See 20 U.S. Code section 1092(a)(1)).

Nor, it seems, does the U.S. Congress nor the Department of Education want you to know that. Although the law was passed by the 101st Congress in 1990, the first time a four-year college will have to publish graduation statistics will be on January 1, 2003, thanks to dickering by lawmakers and a two-year delay by the DOE.

According to an August 1991 letter sent from DOE to all colleges and universities, the schools should have been prepared to have the statistics available for students on July 1, 1998. The DOE had planned on publishing regulations to implement the statute by the spring of 1992, according to the letter.

The DOE did not actually publish regulations until July 1, 1996, more than four years after their target date. Because of this tardiness, most colleges and universities were not even required to start collecting statistics until the class entering July 1, 1996. Under the statute and the regulations, the graduation rate for that class will be available in 2003, thirteen years after Congress passed the statute.

When asked to comment on the delay between the passage of the statute and the implementation of the regulations, a DOE spokesperson said that Congress had passed two amendments to the statute, one in April of 1991 and another in December of 1993, which delayed the implementation of the regulations. The amendments, called “technical amendments,” made small changes to the statute.

The April 1991 amendments, referred to in the August 1991 letter from the DOE to colleges and universities, changed the requirement that schools report the graduation rates of all full-time students to just undergraduate full-time students. The amendments also allow the DOE to exempt certain schools who are already required to publish such statistics because they are a member of an athletic association.

The December 1993 amendments added the requirement that the school make the statistics available on the first July 1 that is more than 270 days after the DOE prescribed its regulations. Nothing in these 1993 amendments affected what the schools had to report, just when they had to report it.

DOE took two and a half years after the December 1993 amendments to issue final regulations, about four years since the last real change to the statute.

reports, Winter 1996-97