Proposed info sharing causes concern

The proposed database would track students by Social Security number.

Cati Vanden Breul

In the future, the federal government might be able to track college students using their Social Security numbers as part of a plan released by the National Center for Education Statistics.

The plan calls for the creation of a database that would track all college students when they switch schools, graduate, drop out of college or work toward another degree. Students would be identified by Social Security number.

Right now, colleges provide the government information through the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. The system includes only summary data, and students are not identified by name or Social Security number, said Peter Zetterberg, University Office of Institutional Research and Reporting director.

If Congress approves the plan, Zetterberg said, he is worried students’ privacy would be at stake.

“We’re concerned with the student-privacy issue, because it would involve giving out Social Security numbers,” Zetterberg said.

The government has access to students’ Social Security numbers for financial information, but giving the numbers out for tracking purposes would allow the U.S. Department of Education to follow students for the rest of their lives, he said.

University biology sophomore David Szarzynski said he would not mind if the University gave the government his Social Security number, if it helped improve higher education.

But a student database providing specific personal information to the government could be easily abused, he said.

“It sounds like a good intention but one that could be dangerous,” Szarzynski said.

Other students said they agreed the government would have to make clear what it was doing with the information.

“I’d say they are walking a fine line between helping and invading privacy issues,” political science sophomore Trevor Ford said.

Ford said he would support the plan only if the government were held accountable for its use of the information.

“I would support it, because it doesn’t sound like it’s too invasive, but if it got into grades and what classes I was taking, that might be a bit much for me,” Ford said.

Before any student database is created, Congress has to approve and set rules for the National Center for Education Statistics’ plan.