Michelle Cormier writes:
The State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO) group released a survey of student data systems in 44 states and the District of Columbia on Tuesday.
The report found that all of the states and the District of Columbia have at least one student unit record system and 29 states have between two and five systems. Each of the surveyed regions collects student demographic and postsecondary enrollment data and 19 states collect data from independent, nonprofit institutions. Thirty-nine states report that they link, share, and/or exchange data with other state agencies/entities.
Additionally, most states release aggregate data, and 27 states consider and approve requests for unit-record data that are compliant with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).
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With respect to privacy, the State Higher Education Executive Officers Report (pdf) states:
The five main challenges of providing access while protecting the privacy of SUR records are as follows:
- Managing relationships with external requestors of data;
- Devising interfacing and data-sharing practices;
- Ensuring FERPA compliance;
- Assuring adequate resources to meet demand and assure security; and
- Implementing or upgrading public reporting capabilities.
To provide all the benefi ts described above, it is necessary to collect and analyze data on individual students, while safeguarding the privacy of individual records. Effective privacy safeguards normally employ several dimensions. First, the databases are secure from non-authorized access, using essentially the same tools and procedures employed in confi dential employment, bank, health care, and governmental databases. Second, the databases are used not to study individuals, but to analyze the aggregated experience of groups of students with similar characteristics. Such analyses frequently use a unique student identifi er which has no other function, and other information that might identify individuals is stripped from the records. Third, and most importantly, these databases are not designed to be comprehensive. While they often include many data elements, they are much less comprehensive than the individual student records schools and colleges normally require and retain on individuals.
The more extensive personal data on students contained in the fi les of schools and colleges are employed by instructors and counselors who work directly with individual students. In order to serve individual students well, teachers and counselors often need access to sensitive personal information that has no relevance to policy development or institutional performance. While it seems clear that the Family Educational Rights to Privacy Act (FERPA) was written primarily to safeguard students from inappropriate disclosure of the sensitive personal records retained by schools and colleges, the safeguards described above hold state level postsecondary data systems to the same high standards of privacy protection.