Plan would divulge student info

Federal officials may gain access to Social Security numbers of students.
Thursday, December 2, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 7:12 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 9, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — A proposed overhaul of the way higher education data is collected would require all universities in Missouri to disclose personal information about their students, including Social Security numbers, to the federal government.

A proposal being studied by the National Center for Education Statistics would greatly expand the data the federal government collects about college students. It would allow federal officials to track individual students as they move through the higher education system by matching Social Security numbers with financial aid numbers.

Supporters say the information would remain confidential and argue that the new data would increase accountability and improve the understanding of college finances, which they say is currently limited by a lack of detailed information. Opponents say it would compromise the privacy of students.

The new measure was first reported in the national Chronicle of Higher Education. It would require all colleges and universities to submit data on all students, regardless of whether they receive financial assistance from the government.

Under current standards, Missouri’s private universities are not required to submit any data about individual students. Both public and private institutions must disclose enrollment statistics, institutional revenue and expenditures, tuition and faculty salary averages to the federal government.

Public schools are already required to provide some supplementary data to the state government but nothing to the extent being suggested by the federal government, said Susanne Medley, a spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Higher Education.

The new federal proposal would require all Missouri universities to provide detailed information to Washington. In neighboring states Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas, the proposal would have the federal government collect individual data from public as well as private schools for the first time.

Gov.-elect Matt Blunt, still serving his term as secretary of state, is embroiled in a lawsuit over his refusal to print in the state register a regulation put forth by outgoing Gov. Bob Holden. The rule would force all new state employees to pay union fees. Blunt’s refusal to print the regulation prevents it from going into effect.

A spokesman for Blunt declined to say whether the soon-to-be governor would attempt a similar move to block the transfer of student data.

“Because we certainly respect greater accountability for results from colleges and universities, as well as respect for the rights of students, Gov.-elect Blunt will want state and federal policy decisions in this area to be based on the views and comments of students, their parents, and public and private institutions,” spokesman Spence Jackson said.

A document released by the federal education department surveying the proposal states that specific information about individual students would not leave the department’s offices.

Critics say that, while the department may mean well, the creation of a national database would open the possibility for abuse. They suggest there may be pressure from other departments for access.

Before the new requirements could go into effect, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act would need to be amended. It requires permission from the parents of a minor or an adult student before a university can release personal information.

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