A proposal for a detailed federal database of all college students has once again surfaced, the brainchild of researchers who believe that a major purpose of colleges is to serve as data sources for their own studies, and of policy wonks who think that any nationwide effort worth doing must be owned and operated by the federal government.
The proposed database is a bad idea for at least three reasons.
A new report by the New America Foundation calls for lifting a five-year-old ban on the creation of a federal database for tracking students into the work force, saying such a system could answer students’ and policy makers’ questions about the value of different degrees.
The report, “College Blackout: How the Higher Education Lobby Fought to Keep Students in the Dark,” traces the controversial “unit record” proposal from its origins, in the George W. Bush administration, to the recent Student Right to Know Before You Go bill, which would link individual student records to wage data in an effort to better inform consumers. The report argues that momentum is building for the creation of such a system, despite continued opposition from the private-college lobby.
This comprehensive report provides a biased look into state and federal unit record systems. While it clearly advocates for such systems, it provides a detailed history of how such projects were introduced, by whom, and when, as well as the hurdles they’ve faced. There is a discussion of student privacy issues, but it is shallow.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers reopened the fight over a federal “unit record” system on Thursday, introducing legislation in both chambers of Congress that would link individual student records to wage data in an effort to “empower” prospective college students.
Moms and dads from across the political spectrum have mobilized into an unexpected political force in recent months to fight the data mining of their children. In a frenzy of activity, they’ve catapulted student privacy — an issue that was barely on anyone’s radar last spring — to prominence in statehouses from New York to Florida to Wyoming.
A months-long review by POLITICO of student privacy issues, including dozens of interviews, found the parent privacy lobby gaining momentum — and catching big-data advocates off guard. Initially dismissed as a fringe campaign, the privacy movement has attracted powerful allies on both the left and right. The American Civil Liberties Union is pushing for more student privacy protection. So is the American Legislative Exchange Council, the organization of conservative legislators.