Retaining privacy

With Tennessee, Pennsylvania and Illinois state governments adopting or proposing programs that urge college institutions to increase graduation and retention rates, Ohio can’t be far behind, especially when we consider our government’s track record on proposing or implementing merit-based programs such as Jobs Ohio, Teach for America and, that dirty catchphrase, Senate Bill 5.

Funding colleges on a performance-based measurement could be the answer to budgetary constraints, but what lengths would an institution go to in order to ensure that students stick around for a cap and gown?

Starfish. That’s the measure YSU employs.

It’s a comprehensive program that catalogs each student’s deficiencies and shares them with the appropriate personnel. But students have rights — mainly a right to privacy.

According to the company’s website, Starfish “addresses FERPA,” and the company’s software programs “automatically mine any existing data” and “encourage the campus community to report concerns — whether these concerns are seen in the classroom, residence halls, advising offices or elsewhere.”

While a student’s private information may not be shared with the public, a lover’s quarrel in the hallway, depression from the loss of a family member, an ugly disagreement with a teacher or any issue that one might not consider sharing will be “automatically” distributed to faculty, advisers and counselors once witnessed and entered into the system.

Starfish flagged 162,000 “at-risk” students in 2011, according to a company press release. That’s 162,000 students who were forced to discuss the issues that led to their poor academic performance. That could also include students who would have preferred not to talk about personal issues with a handful of strangers.

We ask that instructors using the system approach each case delicately. Perhaps employing the subtler and more tactful “hey-what’s-the-matter?” approach could diffuse or remedy a situation without having to call in the troops.