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How Agencies Are Collecting Student Data (and Why You Should Care)

In 2019, The Washington Post published an article that revealed how admissions officers at the University of Wisconsin-Stout were using tracking software on their school website. By placing a ‘’cookie’’ on a young student’s computer the school was able to determine her name, contact information, and the duration of her activities on the school’s site. Even more alarming, with this software it was now possible to determine a likelihood of attending different universities based on personal interests, academic scores, and Web browsing patterns outside of higher education.


Recent records reveal that at least 44 public and private campuses across the country have been working with agencies to harness student information. Conducted without the student or parent’s approval it’s become easier for admission officers to access family income and ethnic background. By having this knowledge students are then sorted between the best candidates and those who were less likely the benefit the university’s revenue.


So what do some agencies claim to not access? As stated by College Board, ‘’information that’s never shared through Student Search Service include disability status, self-reported parental income, social security number, phone numbers, and actual test scores.’’


It’s important to note that the access to student data varies between exams. A prime example is how PSAT, SAT, and AP pledge to only reveal a student’s name, birthdate, and geography—but when it comes to major of choice, GPA score, and educational aspirations the AP Test is an open book. As also reported by the Post, the schools that are most likely to use tracking services are the ones ‘’struggling to survive’’ or ‘’faced with shirking sources of funding and growing competition for high school graduates.’’


In other words…although the state of higher education is expanding, universities that were already struggling have found themselves left with no choice but to experiment with ‘’alternative’’ motives of increasing admission by collecting student information from the more popular, flourishing universities. The ultimate downfall is the lack of transparency between universities that deliberately offer their data. Although most universities are unaware that agencies are retrieving their student’s data, there are still a large number of anonymous campuses which, to this day, refuse to explain their intentions.