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

Student tracking system proposed

The Department of Education is considering a system that would track every student enrolled in college, but opponents are concerned students' privacy would be violated.

The purpose of the "unit-record system," according to the Nov. 26 Chronicle of Higher Education, is to help the government measure a college's performance by determining how many students stay in school and graduate based on data supplied by schools. It will replace the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, or IPEDS, which collects facts on tuition and financial aid.

Proponents of the unit-record system say it is badly needed.

"Ultimately, it will help promote widespread successful participation in higher education," said Hans L'Orange, director of data and information management at the State Higher Education Executive Officers. He said IPEDS provided good information but "doesn't really look at patterns of behavior," including whether full-time students transferred to another school, graduated on time or switched to part-time status.

But other groups strongly oppose the proposal.

"It's an extreme measure that accomplishes no useful end," said Rolf Wegenke, president of the Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. "You register for a class at a university, and you'll be tracked for the rest of your life."

Concern over privacy is a good thing, said Michael McChrystal, a professor in the law school and expert on privacy issues. He said the new system would require changes to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which prohibits colleges receiving federal funds, including Marquette, from releasing student records without permission from students or their family.

There are also many ways the collected data can be misused.

"School records maintain a remarkable variety of things," including grades, health records and disciplinary records, McChrystal said. It would be possible for companies and government agencies to access information available in the database without the student or college finding out.

For its part, the government says information would be protected.

According to the New York Times, the proposal summary said "information about individuals may NEVER leave" the National Center for Education Statistics. The State Higher Education Executive Officers agrees.

"There are valid concerns, but we feel the (National Center for Education Statistics) has a history of maintaining data very securely," L'Orange said. Other government data collection systems have been shown to be secure, he said.

But Wegenke said he was worried the government could create new uses for the data.

Marquette is concerned with the proposal.

"Marquette supports the efforts of (the Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Organizations) and other organizations raising serious questions about the new proposal," said Brigid O'Brien, director of university communication.

The proposal could become part of the Higher Education Act, which governs many federal student aid programs and is up for reauthorization in Congress early next year.

At the moment, Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) has not taken a position on the database, but he will review the proposal "very carefully" if its authorization is placed into the bill, according to spokeswoman Lynn Becker in an e-mail statement.

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) said in a statement: "I would want to make very sure that the privacy of students is protected and that the information would not be used for other purposes."

This article appeared in The Marquette Tribune on Dec. 9 2004.

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