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Education Reporter

Feds Want Info on Every College Student
Ed Dept. Shows No Compelling Need for Data
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Every college would be required to place personal information on individual students into a national database maintained by the government, if a U.S. Department of Education proposal is enacted by Congress. The records would include every student's name, Social Security number, sex, date of birth, home address, race, ethnicity, names of every college course begun and completed, attendance records, and grants and loans received.

This plan, which has raised privacy concerns, would change current practice by requiring colleges to provide personal information on all students, not just those receiving federal aid, and the information has to be student-specific instead of aggregate statistics. It is unclear whether the plan has significant backing in Congress.

The proposal is "unacceptable" and "would be a costly and troubling assault on privacy," Gettysburg College president Katherine Haley Will charged in the Washington Post (3-29-05). "This information could all too easily be shared with other government agencies or even with the private sector."

The database would begin with more than 15 million records of students in the first year and grow thereafter. The records would be held by the federal government for at least the life of the student.

The Education Department asserts that the proposal would give it better information on graduation rates and what students pay for college. "Forty percent of students now enroll in more than one institution at some point during their progress to a degree," says Grover Whitehurst, director of the department's Institute of Education Sciences, which came up with the plan. "The only way to accurately account for students who stop out, drop out, graduate at a later date or transfer out is with a system that tracks individual students across and within post-secondary institutions." (New York Times, 5-26-05)

Opponents are not convinced. "Once a database is created for one purpose, regardless how genuine or legitimate it is, it's very, very hard to prevent it from being used for law enforcement or intelligence purposes," Jim Dempsey, executive director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, told the Times.

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