Understanding Student Data Privacy Laws in Higher Ed Institutions


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The higher education industry is powered by data collection in many ways. Colleges and universities track data on degree completion, admissions, enrollment, recruitment, and much more to enhance the education experience for students. Studies show that 42 percent of higher ed institutions collect and use student data, while 31 percent utilize this information to foster academic success. Most higher ed leaders already closely monitor student data privacy while collecting and using this information, but compliance laws and regulations are continually evolving. This makes it even more vital for organizations to stay up to date with ever-changing data privacy requirements.
In order to better serve students, higher education data collection must be accurate, extensive, compliant, and secure. In this blog, we’ll discuss some of the most common student data privacy laws, as well as tips on how your higher ed institution can become a better steward of student data.

Ensuring compliance to student data privacy laws

As data collection and usage becomes more prevalent within the higher education industry, colleges and universities must follow laws and regulations to safeguard student data. Among others, some federal laws that apply to student data privacy include:

  • The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA): Protects privacy of student educational records
  • The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA): HIPAA is a law that safeguards PHI. Colleges and universities that conduct HIPAA-covered transactions online, such as insurance claims, are considered healthcare providers under HIPAA. HIPAA also applies to non-students’ PHI.
  • The Gramm Leach Bliley Act of 1999 (GLBA): Protects consumer financial data
  • The Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act of 2003 (FACTA): Requires organizations involved with consumer financial transactions to watch out for identity theft and respond accordingly

Similarly, some individual states have enacted laws and regulations of their own that may apply to student data. It’s important to research the laws that apply to your specific institution in order to accurately protect student information and ensure compliance.

Steps you can take to guard student data

Maintaining compliance throughout the data collection process can be complex. But to meet the high standards that student data privacy laws require, higher ed institutions must take extra precautions every step of the way. Here are some steps your college or university can take to guard student data:

  • Establish privacy policies, standards, and secure data collection processes
  • Ensure your college or university complies with applicable laws and regulations at the state, federal, and international level
  • Develop data privacy training for students, staff, and faculty
  • Always stay in the know with the latest data privacy best practices and new technology
  • Respond immediately to any privacy breaches or incidents, and always stay prepared
  • Know who has access to student data
  • Be transparent about the data you gather
  • Analyze current data privacy procedures and build an action plan to improve them

Simplify data collection at your university

When student data is collected properly, it is extremely influential for the success of colleges and universities. Though all of these regulations, laws, and best practices are complex, higher ed institutions can use new technologies like FormAssembly to securely collect data and enhance the student experience. Our secure, compliant, easy-to-use form builder has simplified complex data collection processes for several higher ed institutions, including Cornell and Oxford—yours could be next!

Don’t just collect data
— leverage it