The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

New higher learning system proposed

Spellings' plans, which were announced Sept.,”United States Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced plans to improve the way high school students and their parents go about choosing a college based on information collected by the Commission on the Future of Higher Education.

Spellings' plans, which were announced Sept. 26, include a privacy-protected student level data system that would provide information to make it easier to choose a college. Individuals would be able to access the secure database, which would include information on how much it will really cost to go to a certain school and how long it will take to earn a degree.

"More than 40 states have privacy-protected higher education information systems in place," said Samara Yudof, deputy press secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, in an e-mail interview. "The Secretary's plan would connect those existing islands of data so parents, students and policymakers can weigh and compare institutions of higher learning. It would also provide incentives for every state to become part of the reporting system."

One such site in Wisconsin is the Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities-sponsored Wisconsin Mentor ( that offers a way for students looking to go to school in Wisconsin to compare different independent, or private, colleges and universities in the state. The site also allows students to search for schools based on personal requirements and provides links to independent Web sites for the individual schools.

Marquette has information posted on the site including basic statistics, an overview of the campus and application procedures.

A lack of details presented with Spellings' announcement of the idea for this database has only spurred controversy so far. The Department of Education has announced its overall broad plan, but discussions of Spellings' commission have included the possibility of tracking student performance by keeping information on individuals' grades from the time they start school until they finish.

"I think that this idea is ill-conceived, will cost a lot of money and could invade student privacy," said Rolfe Wegenke, president of WAICU.

The federal Family Educational Rights and Protection Act protects the right of students to keep their educational records private. Wegenke said he thinks the possibility of tracking students' grades over time would be in violation of that.

Others feel the establishment of such a database and access to it would still not prove to be the deciding factor in a college search.

"Students get stressed out enough as it is about looking for colleges," said Roby Blust, Marquette's dean of undergraduate admissions. "I think data is important, but it comes down to visiting the school and how the place feels. I don't think a database can take the place of that."

As of this time, there are no plans to make participation in the database mandatory.

"Secretary Spellings plans to provide matching funds to colleges, universities and states that publicly report student learning outcomes," Yudof said. "The student information system would start out with a voluntary opt-in system for states and institutions to participate."

Still, some do not think that the creation of the database would be at all necessary.

"Colleges already report large amounts of information in aggregate form to the Department of Education," Wegenke said. "They have access to data that would be sufficient without asking for more."

Spellings also announced plans to simplify the financial aid process by cutting down application time and streamlining federal requirements.

"Streamlining student aid is definitely something we need, but again, the devil is in the details, and the details are what they don't have," Wegenke said.

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