Campuses need to regulate how students’ data is used

By Editorial Board

Open data is common on social networks like Facebook, which tailors advertisements to users’ profile information. Now, a government campaign aims to help students use open data with the “MyData button,” similar to the “blue button” of health care. The application would allow students to download their own information in a readable format that could then be shared with third-party tech developers. The idea is that personalized applications and tools, whether it is a textbook application for the iPhone or a computer app that tracks expenditures, will help college students make informed choices about their education and save money.

The Education Department has no doubt caught on to the popularity of open data in the private sector, especially among start-up tech companies that are now pressuring colleges to open their data banks. While it is possible that making student information more available to third parties could make the college experience easier, schools should monitor what data is being used and how.

Although personal information is already shared across social media platforms, the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act protects some student information, such as grades and financial aid. Financial status is another sensitive subject for students who may not want to share how they are paying for their education. It is an invasion of privacy. Though tech companies claim to want to help students, there are plenty that may not want the extra help and would rather figure things out on their own. It may not seem like a big deal to share this information with companies, but many students value privacy more than personalization.

Students and their families are often footing the tuition bill, so their interests come first. This can be accomplished if institutions create applications within their own information systems instead of relying on third-party vendors.

However, this isn’t always possible because of limited budgets. Therefore, institutions need to make sure third parties don’t take advantage of student information. Theresa Rowe, chief information officer at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich., said she couldn’t accept a lower standard of security than what she would use at her own institution. Rowe was correct when she questioned the value of third party applications. While students would receive services in return, the extra tuition money might not be put to good use if some students don’t even use the applications.

Colleges are feeling pressure from companies to make this data more available. It is possible that open student data could vastly improve the journey through college, but institutions should keep in mind that their loyalty is to students, not companies.