Sep 21 2021

The College Transparency Act: What Are Future Use Cases of Student Data?

Groups express concerns over how the legislation will handle personal student data.

In seeking to balance data use and protection, experts don’t always agree on the best path forward, particularly when future contours of the debate are hard to predict.

The College Transparency Act, which would permit the federal government to collect and share certain types of student data, was reintroduced this spring. It has broad support, but organizations such as the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities have reservations about some of the provisions. The AASCU is seeking additional information and assurances about the use and protection of the data.

If passed, the legislation would permit the Department of Education to share limited data with federal agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service and Social Security Administration. The purpose is to track postgraduate outcomes such as income and career. 

Lawmakers say this will result in a public database that helps prospective college students understand the return on investment for specific higher education institutions and programs.

But Luis Maldonado, AASCU’s vice president of government relations and policy analysis, has concerns. He cites student IDs as an example. They’ve been around forever, but there’s a big leap from a plastic card to a retina scan that supports biometric identification, he says.

“What are colleges and universities supposed to do with a file that has a copy of my retina scan? What are the future uses of that?” Maldonado says. “These are really complex questions, and the technology presents as useful for this purpose, but we’re then unsure about future, unintended use of that data."

MORE ON EDTECH: Strategies for leveraging data without compromising confidentiality.

EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated AASCU's position. EdTech regrets the error. 

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