Higher Education: Are Student Data Privacy and Expectations are Different in the Post-COVID-19 Era?

There is mountainous historical research that affirms that students have always been cautious about their privacy. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, however, there is a high degree of concern and expectation from the students to ensure privacy.

But before the discourse spirals out of control, academic institutions want to address the privacy concerns of the students and meet standard student privacy guidelines. Throughout the pandemic crisis, the rise of tech and digital advancement managed to achieve new heights.

Living in the Digital Age

And more tech and digital solutions mean more cyberattacks and IT vulnerabilities. It is the main reason colleges and universities now focus on specific tech tools and digital solutions that ward off cybercriminals. In the U.S., higher education operates like miniature cities and stores comprehensive information of each student.

Student Privacy Specifics

After COVID-19, students want more security of their transcripts, financial, and health information. Students also want their college campuses and universities to be more cautious about new technologies and have a plan of action to collect and store a vast amount of data responsibly.

Don’t Confuse Student Security with Privacy

When it comes to data protection, privacy and security can overlap each other. The fact of the matter is that educational institutions cannot build robust data privacy guidelines without basic security controls. In fact, these security controls protect data from possible breaches and email hacks.

In layman’s terms, security refers to physical and technical tactics to protect data from potential disasters or cyberattacks. Conversely, privacy comes down to the protection of individual rights and ensuring students get complete control of their valuable personal data.

The key to thwart privacy concerns and live up to the high expectations of students is to create policies that would make data collection, storage, and use more systematic. It is crucial for educational institutions to not equate concern with disappointment.

Colleges and universities have a chance to turn the tables and meet newfound privacy expectations of students to set a new standard. For starters, educational institutions can implement more individual guidelines rather than collective ones that generalize different aspects of privacy.

Colleges and universities have to understand that students are more watchful about their personal data collection than ever. It is no wonder more academic institutions now want to create a more reliable data governance system that provides a high degree of protection to students’ personal data.

Governance Plans through PETs

Educational institutions have the opportunity to utilize PETs (Privacy-enhancing technologies) to live up to the high standards of privacy. Essentially, PETs are hardware and software solutions that allow higher education institutions to use data without security or privacy risks.

For example, the University of Michigan is one of the renowned academic institutions that continue to use PETs. One of the shining aspects of PETs is that they offer data encryption, privacy governance, and digital data rights management.

It means colleges and universities can use PETs to improve connectivity around the campus facilities and secure the flow of data at the same time. The foundation of PETs boils down to data analytics. Also, it is a comprehensive solution that allows college campuses to roll out a combination of policies to ensure governance.

Proactive Approach to Address Data Privacy Concerns

That’s right – the last thing educational institutions should do is to shy away from the conversation. Instead, it is crucial for colleges and universities to be part of the conversation and address the data privacy issues of students in a proactive manner.

Also, universities should address the privacy concerns of students consistently. But that means academic institutions will have to keep an eye on new privacy trends and concerns that may lead to a discourse. Ever since there’s been a transition to virtual learning, students have become concerned about their personal data.

Educational institutions will have to build trust and form long-term relationships with students. As a college campus, the more you communicate about data privacy rights to students, the more issues you can put to bed in the early stages. The world is going through a paradigm shift after the pandemic crisis, and higher education will need to engage and communicate more to provide added guidance to students.

Ensure FERPA Compliance

Through this approach, academic institutions can also maintain FERPA compliance. And that’s because even after the pandemic crisis is over, colleges and universities want to adopt a model of hybrid learning under specific settings.  FERPA requirements revolve around security controls that state that educational institutions have to align their online learning with in-person settings.

Privacy Officers and Privacy Boards in Higher Education

The tide of data privacy is changing for good in higher education. So, in order to understand and resolve the new data privacy issues of students, most educational institutions have decided to form privacy boards.

In fact, some colleges and universities have hired chief privacy officers to maintain high standards of data privacy of students. In an era where cyber threats are common, privacy boards and CPOs play an integral role. For instance, CPOs can focus on data-driven safety strategies and ensure thoughtful management in higher education.

When it comes to modern data privacy standards, colleges and universities are in a dire state of leadership, and CPOs can fill that gap. Educational institutions have to look at the data privacy of students through the same lens as public safety that involves facial recognition, card readers, and camera systems. Today, no college or university can turn its back to data governance guidelines and data privacy.

But the good news educational institutions can change their data governance policies to meet the high expectations of students. For instance, colleges and universities can consolidate the personal data of students and adopt a data-driven model to ensure a high level of security and oversight.

Final Thoughts

In essence, the burden of responsibility lies on the shoulders of education institutions to collect and store students’ information in a safe manner. On the flip side, higher education can develop a new curriculum that states new instructions about data ethics and privacy for students. Nonetheless, it’s a brave new world, and colleges and universities should be strategic and hire a professional IT team to ensure the safety of students’ information.


  1. https://studentprivacycompass.org/audiences/higher-ed/
  2. https://studentprivacy.ed.gov/
  3. https://er.educause.edu/articles/2021/2/data-privacy-in-higher-education-yes-students-care
  4. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2019/10/18/why-colleges-are-prioritizing-privacy
  5. https://edtechmagazine.com/higher/article/2020/02/better-protect-student-data-know-difference-between-security-and-privacy
  6. https://er.educause.edu/articles/2020/8/the-post-pandemic-evolution-of-student-data-privacy

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