Why Should Feds Track College Students?

EEkid at aol.com EEkid at aol.com
Mon Jul 31 08:25:53 PDT 2006


Why Should Feds Track College Students?
July 31, 2006

Does the federal government need to know whether you aced
Aristotelian ethics but had to repeat introductory biology? Does it
need to know your family's financial profile, how much aid you
received and whether you took off a semester to help out at home?

The Secretary of Education's Commission on the Future of Higher
Education thinks so. In its first draft report, released in late
June, the commission called for creation of a tracking system to
collect sensitive information about our nation's college students.
Its second draft, made public last week, softens the name of the
plan, but the essence of the proposal remains unchanged.

Whether you call it a "national unit records database" (the first
name) or a "consumer-friendly information database" (the second), it
is in fact a mandatory federal registry of all American students
throughout their collegiate careers - every course, every step, every
misstep. Once established, it could easily be linked to existing K-12
and workforce databases to create unprecedented cradle-to-grave
tracking of American citizens. All under the watchful eye of the
federal government.

The commission calls our nation's colleges and universities
unaccountable, inefficient and inaccessible. In response it seeks to
institute collection of personal information designed to quantify our
students' performance in college and in the workforce.

But many of us are concerned about invading our students' privacy by
feeding confidential educational and personal data, linked to Social
Security numbers, into a mandatory national database. Such a database
would wrest control over educational records from students and hand
it to the government. I'd like the commission to tell me how our
students would benefit from our reporting confidential family
financial information.

Those of us in higher education aren't the only ones with concerns
about this. Earlier this month, the National Association of
Independent Colleges and Universities released results of a survey
that showed the majority of Americans oppose creation of a national
system to track students' academic, enrollment and financial aid
information. More than 60 percent of those polled opposed the
creation of such a system, and 45 percent of those surveyed were
"strongly opposed" to the proposal.

Privacy groups from both ends of the political spectrum - including
the Eagle Forum and the American Civil Liberties Union - criticized
an early form of the proposal that Education Department officials
were exploring in 2004.

We already have efficient systems in place to collect educational
statistics. I question why the commission, which shares our concerns
about the increased cost of education, would want to create a
database that not only violates privacy but also would be very
expensive. Our existing systems meet the government's need to inform
public policy without intruding on student privacy because they
report the data in aggregate form. Colleges and universities report
on virtually every aspect of our students' experience - retention and
graduation rates, financial aid rates and degrees conferred by major
institutions - to the federal and state governments as well as to
organizations such as the NCAA and to many publications.

The commission seems bent on its Orwellian scheme of collecting
extensively detailed, very personal student data. Supporters say it
would make higher education more accountable and more affordable for
students. Admirable goals, but a strange and forbidding solution.

This proposal is a violation of the right to privacy that Americans
hold dear. It is against the law. Moreover, there is a mountain of
data already out there that can help us understand higher education
and its efficacy. And, finally, implementation of such a database,
which at its inception would hold "unit" record data on 17 million
students, would be an unfunded mandate on institutions and add
greatly to the expense of education.

At a time when the world acknowledges the strength of the American
system of higher education - that it is decentralized, diverse,
competitive and independent - why would a commission on the future of
higher education want to impose federal regulations and federal
bureaucratic monitoring of individual students in the name of
"improving" higher education?

Katherine Haley Will is president of Gettysburg College and
chairwoman-elect of the Annapolis Group, an organization of leading
independent liberal arts colleges. This first appeared in The
Washington Post.

You are subscribed as eugen at leitl.org
To manage your subscription, go to

Archives at: http://www.interesting-people.org/archives/interesting-people/

----- End forwarded message -----
Eugen* Leitl <a href="http://leitl.org">leitl</a> http://leitl.org
ICBM: 48.07100, 11.36820            http://www.ativel.com
8B29F6BE: 099D 78BA 2FD3 B014 B08A  7779 75B0 2443 8B29 F6BE

[demime 1.01d removed an attachment of type application/pgp-signature which had a name of signature.asc]

More information about the cypherpunks-legacy mailing list