Bill May Allow Release of Student Information

by Kim Rodgers
Staff

Students who earn an F in chemistry or an incomplete in French can no longer assume that information will be known only by their professor. At least, not if the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009 is passed by the U. S. Senate.

This bill, which was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives and is awaiting the Senate’s vote, allows the federal government access to information that was previously kept private. And that deeply concerns Jim Mills, Transylvania University registrar.

“The bill allows the government to obtain comprehensive information on students, beginning in kindergarten through postgraduate studies and employment,” Mills said.

If the bill becomes law, the information obtained will go first to the state government, then to a federal government database.

“The bill basically allows the government access to all the information we have about students,” Mills said. “They want to know the grades students get, what classes they’re taking, standardized test scores, all kinds of information. Why they need to know your class schedule is beyond me. It’s really got the potential to be an Orwellian system.”

Transcript, the online news source for the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, reported that passage of the student aid bill would close the bank-based Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP). Instead, all student loans would be allotted by a government-run direct loan program. Transcript reports that proponents of the bill argue this move would save an estimated $87 billion over the next 10 years.

“We will have no choice but to comply with this bill if it’s passed, and it sounds like it may very well pass,” Mills said. “Unless we provide the information, we won’t be able to distribute federal financial aid.”

Mills said he heard about this bill only recently, at a meeting of the Kentucky Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.

“I think people should at least be aware of this bill, and I don’t think many are,” Mills said.

Mills is not the only one trying to spread awareness about the possible passage of the student aid bill. Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of external relations, released a statement in which he said, “The proposed system violates some of the most basic principles of fair practices.”

Mills said that currently only a very few government agencies can ask to see confidential student information. The Registrar also shares academic information about students with university faculty if there is a need. Otherwise, only students themselves have access to their private records.

Mills was quick to mention that he does agree the federal government should try to allocate their funds wisely. “I think that accountability is a good thing,” he said.

However, this does not change Mills’ concern about the new student aid bill.

“Effective use of funds is often tied to career and income,” he said. “I’m not sure that’s how effectiveness should be measured, by simply looking at the dollar amount I have spent on my education. I’m not sure that can be quantified, but that seems to be what they’re trying to do.”

Mill is also concerned that liberal arts institutions such as Transy might suffer especially poor government ratings if the student aid bill is passed.

“If the value of education is tied to individual earnings, that devalues the liberal arts education,” he said.

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