Student Privacy Goes to College

|

College Student

Yesterday, I attended the 5th annual Higher Education Privacy Conference at George Washington University with experts and data advocates from across the country to discuss student privacy and information management in higher education. The event was hosted by Daniel Solove, a research professor at George Washington University School of Law, and Tracy Mitrano a principal of Mitrano & Associates LLC. The day featured a lively panel discussion and smaller breakout sessions that fostered interactivity and engagement.

The morning plenary session was led by FPF’s own Jules Polonetsky along with Ellen Wagner the Vice President of Research at Hobsons, Andrea Nixon the Director of Educational Research at Carleton College, Jo Ann Oravec a Professor at the University of Wisconsin and Steven McDonald the General Counsel for the Rhode Island School of Design. The discussion focused mainly on the benefits and risks associated with implementing data analytics at colleges and universities and the question of how heavily should schools rely on data to inform their decisions. Attendees were treated to a healthy debate on how data analytics can help students succeed as panelists pursued ethical questions of what we “can, may and should” do with student data. One panelist shared an example of how data analytics can be beneficial when they discussed how a state university took action once it learned that students who did not begin their freshman year taking the necessary 15 credits per semester were less likely to finish in four years. The university now provides a customized set of courses for new students that ensures they take at least the “bare minimum” of credits their first semester. This is a great example of how data analytics can benefit students in a profound way when used properly.

I spoke to Kathleen Styles, Chief Privacy Officer of the Department of Education during the event about implementing data analytics at institutions of higher education and she said the following:

“Data analytics present us with exciting new opportunities to improve learning, and to address equity issues, by illuminating and ameliorating long-standing disparities in student achievement.  Schools need also evaluate, however, the “should” aspect of data use.  They need to ask, ‘will this proposed data use truly help students?’  Helping students should always be the ultimate goal.”

I definitely agree with Kathleen that data analytics can help identify students that require additional support to be successful in college. I also agree we need to make sure that the data collected is meant to benefit students. After the failure of InBloom, student privacy has been a hotly debated topic at the K-12 level. Colleges and universities have barely scratched the surface when it comes to using predictive analytics and other analytic tools to inform their decisions and shape the advice they provide to students. Institutions of higher education, education service providers, and data advocates must have more thoughtful conversations like the one we had yesterday.

To view the event’s full agenda, click here.