Proposals to track postsecondary students through the creation of one or more longitudinal data systems have been around for about a decade. In 2004, the National Center for Education Statistics formally convened Technical Revue Panels to investigate the feasibility of creating a federal "unit-record" data system to replace a number of Integrated Postsecondary Data System's (IPEDS) aggregate surveys. The proposed system, however, was affirmatively banned in legislation to reauthorize the Higher Education Act.
While a federal student tracking system has been prohibited in federal law, the same Congress that banned its creation voted to authorize funding for state longitudinal data systems–essentially state-level unit-records databases–in the same legislation, i.e., the Higher Education Opportunity Act. Congress also funded the effort earlier this year by allocating $250 million in federal grant funding for state systems in the economic stimulus bill.
In addition to public funding for state programs, private foundations have entered the fray with philanthropic support for non-federal unit-record systems and have, in addition, funded advocacy groups that argue for additional public financing for better data collection.
Privacy advocates have been concerned about non-consensual mandatory disclosure of non-directory student information to any data system, and have pointed out that individuals who seek nothing from the government should not have their private information submitted to third-parties solely because they attend institutions where other students receive financial aid. In addition, concerns about the right to inspect and amend such records, and the right to control re-disclosure have been seen as grounds for opposing the creation of a unit-record system.
Enrollment services officials on campuses have also expressed misgivings about the operational issues involved, and believe that implementation of a nationwide system may be vastly more complicated and expensive than the NCES study suggested in 2005.
AACRAO invites you to view a webcast of a conversation between AACRAO Associate Executive Director, Barmak Nassirian, and Kevin Carey, Policy Director at the Education Sector on the unit-record concept.
This webinar was pre-recorded and is currently available.
NCES Study of Unit-Record System, 2005
Spelling Committee Calls for Creation of Unit-Record System, 2006
Lumina Foundation Study of State Unit-Record Efforts, 2007
Gates Foundation Initiative with the national Student Clearinghouse, February 2009
President Obama's Call for Better Data, March 2009
27 States Receive Longitudinal Data Systems Grants, April 2009