Student privacy must be protected by strengthening the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and by maintaining the provision in the 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) that prohibits the establishment of a federal student unit record data system (SURD).

A variety of privacy related measures are pending before Congress (see Federal Activities below) —some of which 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 measures address data security issues as well.

Congress should review and balance concern for privacy with its interest in information, and provide clear guidance on what is both legal and appropriate.


NAICU believes that it is essential to protect the privacy of students and their educational records. This position goes back to our founding in 1976—when the association strongly supported the so-called “Buckley Amendment,” protecting the privacy of student records at all levels – from kindergarten through graduate school. The Buckley Amendment is now better known as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA.

The systematic collection of data on individual students poses a serious and substantial risk to student privacy.

Federal Activities

Statewide Data Systems: Given the prohibition on a federal SURD, substantial effort has gone into the creation of statewide data systems, and the consideration of how these systems might be linked. Both the 2009 State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (SFSF) and the Race to the Top programs require the creation of state longitudinal databases and increased data collection by state education authorities. The Department of Education has provided well over $500 million in federal support for the development of these data systems, as have private funders. This expansion is designed to enable the tracking of a student’s progress from pre-school through college – and perhaps beyond.

FERPA Regulations: New FERPA regulations, which took effect in 2012, permit more information from student education records to be made available to a larger number of individuals and entities engaged in audit, evaluation, or enforcement/compliance activities.

Proposed Legislation: Among the many bills that have been introduced during the 114th Congress regarding student information and privacy are:

  • The Student Right to Know Before You Go Act, S. 1195/H.R. 2518, which would require the establishment of a federal student unit record system so that colleges can submit additional data to the Department of Education regarding student enrollment, transfers, retention and completion, debt levels, employment and earnings after graduation, and related outcomes.
  • The Student Privacy Protection Act, HR 3157, is intended to update FERPA to protect student privacy in the digital age, limit the use of information for studies, prohibit third-party marketing, and update disclosures related to child protection and safety.
  • The Student Digital Privacy and Parents Rights Act H.R. 2092/S. 1788 would limit commercial activity with respect to online services related to K-12 education, and require online service operators to establish security processes and respond promptly to data breaches.
  • The Student Privacy Protection Act S. 1341 would amend FERPA to establish additional limits on third-party access to student data, prohibit the use of funds for collection of educational or career progression data, and institute civil penalties for FERPA violations.

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Jody Feder: