student Privacy

For over four decades, federal law has guaranteed that students control their own personal and academic information. Under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), institutions of higher education are subject to strict privacy requirements in their role as temporary custodians of student records, but it is students who generally determine what may be done with their personal information.

In recent years, one of the most significant challenges to student privacy has come in the form of various proposals to establish a federal student unit record data system (SURD). The systematic collection of data on individual students that would occur under SURD poses a serious and substantial risk to student privacy. Although the Higher Education Act currently prohibits the creation of such a system, some policymakers have advocated for overturning this ban. NAICU, however, has opposed the creation of a student unit record data system due to the belief that the benefits of such a system do not outweigh the risks to student privacy.


Since its establishment in 1976, NAICU has advocated in favor of protecting the privacy of students and their educational records. As a result, NAICU strongly supports FERPA and its core goal of protecting the privacy of student records at all levels, from kindergarten through graduate school.

Federal Activities

A variety of privacy-related measures are pending before Congress. Some of these measures would loosen current restrictions on the availability of student information in order to track and evaluate academic and employment outcomes, while others would tighten them to offer greater parental control and curtail commercial use of the information. Many of these proposals would address data security issues as well.

Multiple bills have been introduced in Congress regarding student information and privacy. The two most prominent bills that seek to gather increased data on students are the College Transparency Act (S. 839/H.R. 2030) and the Student Right to Know Before You Go Act (S. 3952).  In 2022, the College Transparency Act passed the House as part of the America COMPETES Act

The original version of the College Transparency Act raised significant privacy concerns, as well as concerns about regulatory burden.  More recent versions of the bill contain several important new privacy protections, including notice to students, an opportunity for students to inspect and correct their records, data minimization and security provisions, data retention and destruction protocols, and a requirement that data may be made available only for vetted research purposes.  However, because the bill would both repeal the SURD ban and authorize the establishment of a federal student tracking system, NAICU cannot support it.

In contrast, the Student Right to Know Before You Go Act would explore using improved technology to gather – and protect – the information policymakers desire.  Additionally, the proposed bill does not create a permanent federal data repository on each individual U.S. student. Although there are still many unanswered questions about the feasibility of the new technology and the federal and institutional capacity to implement the system envisioned by the Student Right to Know Before You Go Act, NAICU supports further exploration regarding the cost, effectiveness and feasibility of this new approach.  NAICU also believes the Act has the potential to solve the privacy issues that have been central to its concerns with previous proposals.

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