Student tracker proposed

Feasibility of a Student Unit Record System Within IPEDS

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The Education Department wants congressional approval to create a federal database that would track individual students throughout their college careers and give federal officials better information for policy decisions.

A feasibility study released this month by the department's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) states that the center can handle the technological and privacy challenges of such a database, but adds that it would impose additional costs on colleges to update their administrative systems.

The proposed tracking system would require a centralized database and secure off-line storage to manage millions of student records initially, along with millions of new records that would be added each year.

If lawmakers approve the new database, NCES officials would conduct field tests in the 2006-07 academic year and begin full-scale implementation of the new system in the 2007-08 academic year, according to the study.

NCES officials say the database would replace the student-related components of the current Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, which provides only institution-level statistics on college enrollment, graduation rates, tuition fees, student financial aid and other student-related data.

The proposed database would provide individually identifiable student information, including names, Social Security numbers, number of courses taken and credits earned, degrees completed, and actual education costs.

The study acknowledges the privacy concerns that already have been raised. But it states that NCES operates under legislation that makes it a Class E felony to violate data confidentiality rules. The study also states that no cases have occurred in which confidential data collected by NCES has been wrongfully disclosed.

According to the study, federal officials and lawmakers need the database of student records to obtain more accurate measures of institutional accountability and program effectiveness. It states that the proposed database would help policy-makers calculate, for example, the net price of college education and to monitor in real time federal student aid programs, such as Pell grants, and variations in aid packaging.

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