WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts is leading efforts to roll back student data privacy protections in exchange for more detailed information on student outcomes.
Warren is teaming with Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, and Louisiana Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy to push the College Transparency Act of 2017, which would task the National Center for Education Statistics with coordinating with other federal agencies to stockpile student information.
The legislation would overturn a ban written into the 2008 reauthorization of the Higher Education Act that specifically forbids a federal data system to track students, Inside Higher Ed reports.
Warren and company contend the move would allow federal officials to better track how students perform after graduation, and provide that information to parents shopping for schools. They contend the institutional level data available now isn’t good enough.
“Going to college opened up a million doors for me, but I wasn’t a traditional student — I dropped out, got married, then found a commuter college hundreds of miles away from where I’d started. The way colleges and the federal government currently report student outcomes data would have left me out of the picture,” Warren, whom President Trump has referred to as “Pocahontas,” said in a press statement.
“The College Transparency Act will patch up the big gaps in college data transparency and finally provide students, families, and policymakers with an accurate picture of how colleges are serving today’s students.”
The bill was introduced Monday with support from the Chamber of Commerce and some academic groups, and supporters pointed out that the federal government already tracks a lot of information, and the College Transparency Act will allow them to put it together to better track what students are doing.
“It’s not like all of this new data is being collected,” Amy Laitinen, director at New America’s Education Policy, told Inside Higher Ed. “We’re talking about data that is already being collected.”
Others, meanwhile, are pointing out obvious student privacy issues and the public’s general aversion to government data collection.
“It is hard to imagine popular support growing in this climate for having confidential information of every American college student turned over to the federal government,” said Sarah Flanagan, vice president of government relations for the national Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.
“This proposed legislation to create a student unit record system seems to be coming from a subset of researchers who want to make it easier to do studies,” she said. “We look forward to working with the senators who proposed the legislation to address the privacy questions that the sponsors have raised, but not yet fully answered.”
Inside Higher Ed reports the American Civil Liberties Union and North Carolina Rep. Virginia Foxx have also lined up against the legislation. Foxx is the chairwoman of the House education committee.
“We all want students and parents to have access to the information they need to make the best decision possible about higher education, and this continues to be an important committee priority for the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act,” a committee spokeswoman told the news site. “At the same time, protecting student privacy and maintaining a limited federal role also remain important priorities for Chairwoman Foxx and the committee.”