Phi Beta Cons

WSJ Article on FERPA

Today’s Wall Street Journal has an interesting article on FERPA — the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Some people find it vague, and useful to colleges that want to hide information that would prove embarrassing. Others think it ought to be expanded.

A specific case that’s discussed is one at Roger Williams University. “In March, Roger Williams University . . . was criticized for hiring the university’s president’s 26-year old son for a fund-raising job, which required a bachelor’s degree. Citing the federal act, the university declined to say whether the son, Chris Nirschel, finished his undergraduate education at Roger Williams — or anywhere else.”

That seems absurd. How is it an invasion of privacy to say whether an individual does or does not hold a degree?

FERPA itself seems absurd to me. The decisions colleges and universities make regarding the disclosure of information about students is no business of the federal government. To paraphrase James Madison, “I cannot lay my finger upon that section of the Constitution that gives Congress the authority to dictate to colleges and universities what their policy on disclosure of information must be.” The states ought to decide upon that for their educational institutions and private schools ought to set their own policies.

Lastly, why does a fund-raising job require a college degree? If Roger Williams thinks that people will give less if contacted by an individual without some degree, it’s entitled to discriminate against non-degreed people, but nothing one learns in college is essential to the fund-raiser’s job. This is another instance of employers using educational credentials as a screening mechanism.

George Leef — George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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