Why does the Department of Education need your data?

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The New York Times reports that the Department of Education wants to require universities to report information on all students (previously, information was only required on students who received federal funding):
The plan could be part of the spending bill for the Higher Education Act that the Senate will vote on next month. If included in the spending measure, the plan would radically change current practice by requiring schools to provide personal information on all students, not just those receiving federal aid.

Submissions would include every student's name and Social Security number, along with gender; date of birth; home address; race; ethnicity; names of every college course begun and completed; attendance records; and financial aid information.

Such detailed information is now provided only for students receiving federal aid, giving the department only a partial picture of higher education nationwide. The new approach, department officials say, would not only complete the picture but also help track students who take uncommon paths toward a degree.

"Forty percent of students now enroll in more than one institution at some point during their progress to a degree," said Grover Whitehurst, director of the department's Institute of Education Sciences, which devised the plan. "The only way to accurately account for students who stop out, drop out, graduate at a later date or transfer out is with a system that tracks individual students across and within post-secondary institutions."

I certainly understand why the DoE would want to gather this information. It's certainly much easier to study things when you have all the raw data in front of you. But DoE's convenience isn't the only issue here: under this plan they'll be collecting all sorts of personal information that students aren't necessarily willing to share. Indeed, the University is forbidden to release this information to ordinary third parties under 20 USC S. 1232g (b)(1). I would imagine that DoE could get most of the data that they want in ways that protects students privacy better (e.g., anonymization, aggregation, etc.) Of course, why bother to think about that when you can just order universities to give you the data you want?

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It'd help researchers if they had this info, therefore it must be reported. Report for re-Nedufication immediately!

Similarly, the NIH will now be requiring supermarkets to produce a detailed list, indexed by SSN, of all food, drink, and pharmaceutical items purchased by their customers. The Real Loyalty(TM) Act of 2005 will require that supermarket loyalty cards contain SSNs, as well as biometric identifiers. Fingerprint reading will require only a modest investment, since POS terminals can leverage the "know your customer" fingerprint devices now common in in-store bank branches. Technicians from Polo/Ralph Lauren will handle the POS system integration, so the data will be safe.

I, for one, welcome our new Department of Education overlords. They'd neeeever allow Homeland Security to mine such a treasure trove.

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