by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Some of my right-leaning heroes (insofar as politicians are worthy of being heroes) are ganging up with other politicos to support the dull-sounding but pernicious policy of a federal unit-record system for higher education. The skinny: This bugger would expand federal cradle-to-grave surveillance of we, the people, and further centralize our already micromanaged economy. And Rep. Paul Ryan, Sen. Marco Rubio, and Rep. Mia Love are leading cosponsors. Jigga what?
A “unit record” system is basically a one-stop, portable data profile of every person who enters higher education. The idea is to make it easier for government to track, and eventually influence, who enters what field of study and subsequent career. To justify this monstrosity, the press release from Love and Co. echoes widespread complaints about how a college degree (and its accompanying debt) doesn’t necessarily lead to a job that can help students pay off that debt as comfortably as they’d like. We’ve all heard that, right? …
… Florida Gov. Rick Scott recently encapsulated the general Republican view: “If I’m going to take money from a citizen to put into education then I’m going to take that money to create jobs. So I want that money to go to degrees where people can get jobs in this state. Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists? I don’t think so.” …
… Here, let’s discuss the political problem with a unit-record system as a potential solution to the very real problem that America’s higher-education system is certainly consuming millions if not billions of dollars that never benefit the individuals using them, let alone the rest of us, who provide them.
The Student Right to Know Before You Go Act of 2015 would eliminate the federal ban on a unit-record system and demand that colleges send the federal government more information about students so federal bureaucrats can connect and expand several existing government and private data systems. The idea is to track kids through college and into the workforce to find what majors in what schools lead to what jobs and incomes. But that’s not the half of it.
The text of the bill indicates that the U.S. Education Secretary can tap whatever agencies he wants to mix and match this data. Smooth—if one is all aboard with letting unelected bureaucrats control what information the feds collect about American citizens who, remember, are supposed to boss government, not get bossed by it.