Colleges Are Pressured to Open Up Student Data

College campuses are hothouses of data, including course schedules, degree requirements, and grades. But much of the information remains spread out across software systems or locked on university servers. Now a crowd of start-ups has emerged with hopes of prying out those rich data sets to build an app economy for universities—a world of new personalized services that could transform the student experience.

The idea of opening data to consumers has already spread to such industries as health care and energy.

In 2010 the Department of Veterans Affairs introduced a "blue button" for online health records that lets patients download their information with a single click. Consumers looking to reduce their energy bills can use a similar tool: The White House recently promoted a "green button" for utility companies that lets customers download their energy-consumption information.

Now a "MyData button" for students is on the horizon. A government campaign is urging colleges and companies that hold student data to make information like grades and test scores more portable and user-friendly.

The thinking behind data buttons goes like this: Armed with information, consumers can plug it into smartphone apps and Web tools to make better decisions and save money.

But advocates of unlocking more data in higher education face tough challenges.

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