Capitol looks at student privacy

Brady Averill

Visa, MasterCard, Discover. Name the credit card, and college students probably have it.

Many college students have credit cards and often have more than one sitting in their wallets. They use them to pay for anything from a $4 mocha to a tuition bill.

Meenal Patel, a graphics design junior, said she has only one credit card and one bank debit card. When she was a first-year student, she said, credit card companies often asked her to sign up. But, she said, she usually turned them down.

Legislators are trying to make it more difficult for credit card companies to solicit college students.

A bill in both the State House and Senate would prohibit higher education institutions from selling or giving student contact information to credit card issuers without the student’s consent. It would also prohibit higher education institutions from entering into agreements to market credit cards to students.

The bill has bipartisan backing in the House.

Rep. Katie Sieben, DFL-Newport, said the bill’s intention is not to take away students’ rights to have credit cards. Instead, it is trying to give students more rights to refuse credit card solicitation, she said.

“I was shocked to discover that students don’t have the same right to opt out of receiving credit card solicitation that nonstudents do,” Sieben said.

She said the bill would also give students the power to make their own financial decisions.

Sieben said Minnesota is following suit with 26 other states that have proposed similar legislation.

University practice

The University Board of Regents has a policy that basic student contact and enrollment information is public record.

Therefore, if a credit card company requests directory information, by law, the University must provide it, said Jerry Rinehart, vice provost for student affairs.

The federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and the Minnesota Government Data Privacy Act form a backdrop for the regents’ policy.

When students update their contact information on One Stop, they can leave out information on the directory.

Sieben said she wants students to be able to choose whether they want their information given to credit card companies.

Though directory information is public, Sieben questioned whether higher education institutions should make the information especially easy for credit card companies to get.

The University charges $50 per request for student directory information, said John Kellogg, an analyst in the Office of Institutional Research and Reporting.

As long as it’s in the “public information bucket,” Kellogg said, he can give credit card companies certain information about students.

For example, if a company asks for information about all first-year students, he can compile that data, he said.

When anyone formally asks for student directory information, the request usually goes to the Office of the General Counsel.

Susan McKinney, a coordinator in the office’s records and information management division, said she sees most of the requests.

“I’ve had very few requests from much of anyone” for student directory information, she said.

She said she doesn’t receive a lot of requests from credit card companies. Many requests are from people who are doing research and want to survey students, she said.

McKinney said credit card companies have other ways of getting contact information.

“They’re typically not getting it from here,” she said.

For example, when students subscribe to magazines, she said, the contact information is sometimes sold to outside parties.

“Any time you may have given your name or address out, it’s possible they’ve sold that information to someone else,” she said.

McKinney advises students to check privacy policies, especially when providing contact information on the Internet.

The University does not market credit cards to students, said Stacy Hebdon, a cash manager for the Office of Asset Management.

The University Alumni Association, which is a separate

nonprofit entity, does offer a credit card with its logo on it through Chase Manhattan Bank, said Sue Diekman, senior director of communications for the association.

The credit card is marketed only to alumni, she said. Chase Manhattan Bank mails out letters to alumni twice a year, she said.

The University also has an internal credit card with its logo on it, but it’s only for employee use, Hebdon said.

For the last couple of years, credit card companies have not been allowed to market credit cards on campus without permits, and the University does not give them permits, Rinehart said.

Other practices

Other Minnesota colleges vary on what information they give to credit card companies.

Hamline University has a policy set in place not to give credit card companies student contact information, said Percy Nelson, associate vice president for enrollment management.

“We try to be as careful as possible with all our directory information,” he said.

Minnesota State-Mankato considers the same student directory information public as the University of Minnesota does.

“Credit cards, absolutely, can get that information,” said Scott Olson, vice president for academic affairs at Minnesota State-Mankato.

Legal questions

If the bill were to pass, the University of Minnesota would have to explore some legal issues.

The Office of the General Counsel is currently researching how the University of Minnesota would comply with the bill if it became law – with the current language intact.

“Whenever there’s a new proposal to modify student privacy rights either to expand them or restrict them, we follow that very carefully,” said Mark Rotenberg, University of Minnesota general counsel.

Because the University of Minnesota complies with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, the Minnesota Government Data Privacy Act and the Board of Regents policy regarding public information, the bill raises a question of how the institution would comply with all the guidelines.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act is a federal law. There’s a degree to which state law can modify federal law, Rotenberg said. Typically, he said, federal law trumps state law.

Credit card problems

College campuses are not strangers to credit card problems.

Darryl Dahlheimer, a financial counselor from Lutheran Social Service Financial Counseling, counsels University of Minnesota students.

He said he likes the bill.

“It’s not that credit cards are bad,” he said. “It’s just so easy when you’re broke to be offered credit cards and accept credit cards.”

Dahlheimer said companies know students and their parents will pay off the bills.

Students on a national average have between a $2,000 and $3,000 balance at any time on their credit cards, he said.

Minnesota State Colleges and Universities released survey results two weeks ago about students working long hours to pay off credit card debt and using them to pay for educational expenses.

More than 37 percent said they use credit cards to pay for educational expenses and said they won’t be able to pay their credit card balances, further increasing their debt, according to the survey.

Dahlheimer said there is a strong relationship between credit card debt and low grade point average. The higher the debt, he said, the lower the GPA.

When credit card companies market to students, he said, students sometimes have the impulse to accept the offers.

Heidi Kloempken, a University of Minnesota history senior, was one of those students. She signed up for a credit card during her first year in college, because she felt pressured, she said.

“I was pretty stupid about it,” she said.

Kloempken said she never activated the card and canceled it right away.

Colleges throughout Minnesota are offering classes and having media campaigns to educate students more about credit cards.

Olson said, “We have to do it through education. We can’t do it through cutting off information.”