Our View

Editorial Board

Student database plan vague, impractical

If the federal government has its way, school records for every college student will be collected and compiled into a national database.

While the data collected would be useful, holes in the government’s plan will outweigh the benefits of gathering the information.

At a time when privacy concerns are becoming increasingly acute, a national database containing data categorized by individuals’ Social Security Numbers seems foolish. Kent State recently stopped requiring students to bubble in an entire Social Security Number on Scantron sheets, citing the possibility of identity theft. All it would take is one hacker to squeeze into the government’s system and gain access to thousands of personal data files. The Education Department has responded by saying it may give students bar codes to identify them instead of using Social Security Numbers, a must for the program.

The government has vaguely described what information it will be collecting. According to a story by Knight Ridder Newspapers, the fed hopes to track “graduation rates and help measure quality in higher education.” Obviously, this nebulous description of the information could mean just about any data would be collected. The Department of Education should outline specifically what information will be collected so students aren’t suspicious about motive.

Once again, the PATRIOT Act has worked its way into the discussion. An Education Department feasibility study discovered that the Department of Justice and attorney general could request student database information in order to “fight terrorism.” This is frightening. Information that should be strictly used for broad-based studies could end up being used against students in court.

According to the story, the call for a national student database is the result of a desire for accountability. But this doesn’t make much sense at the university level. States and individual institutions already self-regulate the programs. Many university programs also go through an accreditation process, which ensures a quality program.

The Knight Ridder Newspapers story said the database could cost the federal government $10 million to $12 million to implement. This sum of money could be used more practically in directly bettering college students through financial aid or other breaks in tuition. In a time where the government is continually tightening its belt by cutting programs as well as taxes, a new program costing this much money doesn’t seem efficient.

The federal government has been increasingly throwing its weight around, attempting to usurp power from the state and local jurisdictions. It’s a change in mentality that hasn’t resulted in many benefits to the system. Schools are still run at a local or state level. It’s the responsibility of states to provide a public education. The individual colleges and universities as well as the states know what problems need to be addressed — not the federal government.

The proposal to institute a national database is riddled with flaws. Until the government fixes these fatal errors, leave our data alone.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board, whose members are listed to the left.