How Much Does the Government Really Need to Know About College Students in America?

"The promise of big data versus the menace of Big Brother. That's the storyline of an unlikely, behind-the-scenes battle being waged over a plan to help Americans know their odds of graduating on time from a particular college, and how much money they will likely earn when they do," The Atlantic reports.

"The fiercely contested debate pits the advantages of collecting this seemingly basic information against the risk to hundreds of thousands of so-called Dreamers—immigrants brought to the United States by their parents and protected from deportation by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that is now in limbo.

Having accurate graduation rates and alumni-earnings information may help students, including those who are undocumented, find the right college, said Chad Marlow, the advocacy and policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union.

But 'the idea we have to check is, are these kids going to get a better education if they’re deported? And that’s the climate that we live in,' said Marlow, who focuses on privacy and technology.

... The proposal to let the government monitor students’ progress through their higher educations—known as student-unit record-keeping—has significant ramifications for universities and colleges. Some would look better if more accurate success rates were made available to students. Some would look worse.

... Colleges and universities themselves have split on the issue. Lobbying organizations representing public universities and community colleges, whose graduation rates would look better using student-unit record-keeping, now support it. But the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, made up of private, nonprofit institutions, is opposed, saying that the 'systematic collection of data on individual students' would create 'a serious and substantial risk to student privacy.'

On the other side are advocates for students who bemoan the 'remarkable lack of transparency and accountability' that results from the vacuum of accurate data, as one organization—the Young Invincibles—put it in a position paper calling for such critical information as graduation rates to finally be accurately provided.

'Right now students are making one of the most important and most expensive decisions of their lives with very little concrete, verifiable information to go on,' said Amy Laitinen, the director of higher education at the think tank New America, a longtime proponent of student-unit record-keeping.

... The congressional proposal to remove the student-unit record-keeping ban, meanwhile, is being backed by the Student Veterans of America, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, among others."

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Publication Date: 10/26/2017

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