Bipartisan Bill Introduced to Repeal Ban on Student Data Collection

student data collection Sam EdwardsGetty Images
Sam Edwards/Getty

A bipartisan group of members of Congress have introduced a bill that would overturn a federal ban on collecting data on the education and employment outcomes of college students.

The College Transparency Act of 2017 – introduced in the Senate by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) – is being billed by its supporters as a “modernization” of “the college reporting system for postsecondary data in order to provide greater transparency for students, families, institutions, and policymakers.”

Reps. Paul Mitchell (R-MI) and Jared Polis (D-CO) introduced a companion bill in the House Wednesday.

A press release about the bill states:

The College Transparency Act of 2017 will provide actionable and customizable information for students and families as they consider higher education opportunities by accurately reporting on student outcomes such as enrollment, completion, and post-college success across colleges and majors, while ensuring the privacy of individual students is securely protected. Most importantly, this information will tell students how other prospective students have succeeded at an institution, and help point them towards schools best suited to their unique needs and desired outcomes.

The bill enjoys support from lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle. Inside Higher Ed notes the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is also providing “enthusiastic support” for the bill, as is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-funded New America.

“Unfortunately, the current college reporting system does not reflect the realities of today’s students, and it leaves many critical questions unanswered,” Hatch said in a statement. “My bill will resolve the shortcomings of the current reporting system so that students can make the most informed decisions about their future education.”

“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,” Warren also said.

The legislation, however, is already garnering strong opposition from grassroots parent groups seeking to block a federal student data collection system and put an end entirely to federal involvement in education.

Cheri Kiesecker, a Colorado-based parent activist, tells Breitbart News the bill “will require collection of student personally identifiable information including students’ ‘persistence.’”

“How exactly is that going to be measured accurately?” she asks. “More importantly, should it even be measured?”

“Nowhere in the bill is consent or ability to opt out mentioned, and there is no enforceable penalty for misuse of information,” Kiesecker adds.

The bill’s “required data elements” are “student-level data elements necessary to allow for reporting student enrollment, persistence, retention, transfer, and completion measures for all credential levels within and across postsecondary institutions.”

While the legislation specifically excludes the collection of “health data, student discipline records or data, elementary and secondary education data, exact address, citizenship or national origin status, course grades, individual postsecondary entrance examination results, political affiliation, or religion,” it does set up:

[S]haring agreements, with other Federal agencies to create secure linkages with relevant Federal data systems, including data systems of the Office of Federal Student Aid, the Department of Treasury, the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Social Security Administration, and the Bureau of the Census.

Though the bill states the student data will be kept secure, Kiesecker notes the most recent hacking into federal student data that led to the removal of the IRS data retrieval tool from the online student financial aid FAFSA application until the fall.

Conservative commentator Michelle Malkin also covered student data collection in a recent episode of her CRTV show Michelle Malkin Investigates.

“Rather than protecting student privacy, the government is a complicit partner in eroding it,” Malkin observed. “We’ve gone from No Child Left Behind to Every Child Data Mined.”

Malkin stressed the role of the federal government in the collection of private student data in her show commentary:

The government is not only joining in but also encouraging and mining the data of our children. Washington meddlers are already on the ground and in our schools gathering intimate information on your family. Through Common Core, the feds are funding and mandating invasive longitudinal databases, collecting highly personal information. It’s data they’ll have forever, data that can never be unseen, your children’s privacy ripped away as they tracked from womb to tomb.

“The data-mining octopus keeps growing more arms and tentacles,” Malkin recently told Breitbart News. “It’s inescapable.”

“States are amassing a broad range of educational data, including increasing amounts of personally identifiable information,” she added. “It’s all being funneled from state longitudinal databases into a federal pipeline and, ultimately, a de facto national student database. Parents cannot rely on anyone in Washington to fix this problem. The revolt must be from the grassroots up.”

American Principles Project senior fellow Jane Robbins urges parents to download the Parent Toolkit, recently released by the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy.

“Policymakers won’t pay serious attention to student-privacy issues until parents begin to demand it,” Robbins writes at Truth in American Education. “Armed with the Coalition’s information, parents can better protect their own children and advocate for greater protections for all children.”


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