on the Web
Coming the week of August 28!
The homepage of the St. Lawrence Web site, and selected second-level
pages, will have a refreshed design! We've taken the best features
from our new, Summer 2005, Web restructuring, listened to feedback
over the year, developed new ideas, and have been working on a refreshed
look that you'll see in August. Watch for our new look!!
Higher Education in the News: A new feature
of News Digest
From time to time, we'll post relevant articles about higher education.
Higher Education in the News
Big Brother on Campus
By Katherine Haley Will
Sunday, July 23, 2006
Does the federal government need to know whether you aced Aristotelian
ethics but had to repeat introductory biology? Does it need to know
your family's financial profile, how much aid you received and whether
you took off a semester to help out at home?
The Secretary of Education's Commission on the Future of Higher
Education thinks so. In its first draft report, released in late
June, the commission called for creation of a tracking system to
collect sensitive information about our nation's college students.
Its second draft, made public last week, softens the name of the
plan, but the essence of the proposal remains unchanged.
Whether you call it a "national unit records database"
(the first name) or a "consumer-friendly information database"
(the second), it is in fact a mandatory federal registry of all
American students throughout their collegiate careers -- every course,
every step, every misstep. Once established, it could easily be
linked to existing K-12 and workforce databases to create unprecedented
cradle-to-grave tracking of American citizens. All under the watchful
eye of the federal government.
The commission calls our nation's colleges and universities unaccountable,
inefficient and inaccessible. In response it seeks to institute
collection of personal information designed to quantify our students'
performance in college and in the workforce.
But many of us are concerned about invading our students' privacy
by feeding confidential educational and personal data, linked to
Social Security numbers, into a mandatory national database. Such
a database would wrest control over educational records from students
and hand it to the government. I'd like the commission to tell me
how our students would benefit from our reporting confidential family
Those of us in higher education aren't the only ones with concerns
about this. Earlier this month the National Association of Independent
Colleges and Universities released results of a survey that showed
the majority of Americans oppose creation of a national system to
track students' academic, enrollment and financial aid information.
More than 60 percent of those polled opposed the creation of such
a system, and 45 percent of those surveyed were "strongly opposed"
to the proposal.
Privacy groups from both ends of the political spectrum -- including
the Eagle Forum and the American Civil Liberties Union -- criticized
an early form of the proposal that Education Department officials
were exploring in 2004.
We already have efficient systems in place to collect educational
statistics. I question why the commission, which shares our concerns
about the increased cost of education, would want to create a database
that not only violates privacy but also would be very expensive.
Our existing systems meet the government's need to inform public
policy without intruding on student privacy because they report
the data in aggregate form. Colleges and universities report on
virtually every aspect of our students' experience -- retention
and graduation rates, financial aid rates and degrees conferred
by major institutions -- to the federal and state governments as
well as to organizations such as the NCAA and to many publications,
including U.S. News & World Report and the Princeton Review.
The commission seems bent on its Orwellian scheme of collecting
extensively detailed, very personal student data. Supporters say
it would make higher education more accountable and more affordable
for students. Admirable goals, but a strange and forbidding solution.
This proposal is a violation of the right to privacy that Americans
hold dear. It is against the law. Moreover, there is a mountain
of data already out there that can help us understand higher education
and its efficacy. And, finally, implementation of such a database,
which at its inception would hold "unit" record data on
17 million students, would be an unfunded mandate on institutions
and add greatly to the expense of education.
At a time when the world acknowledges the strength of the American
system of higher education -- that it is decentralized, diverse,
competitive and independent -- why would a commission on the future
of higher education want to impose federal regulations and federal
bureaucratic monitoring of individual students in the name of "improving"
The writer is president of Gettysburg College and chair-elect of
the Annapolis Group, an organization of leading independent liberal