The Education Department will issue a final rule today that will make it easier for states to track students' academic progress and evaluate education programs.
The rule allows state and local education officials to share student information more widely without violating federal privacy law. It also makes lenders, guarantors, and other agencies with access to student records subject to the law, known as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, or Ferpa.
Supporters say the changes will help researchers measure the effectiveness of government-financed education programs. They say Ferpa has hampered such research because states and schools have been unsure about what information they can legally share.
But privacy advocates say the rule undermines longstanding student protections. They expressed disappointment that the department did not adopt many of their proposed changes to its draft rule, which came out in April.
"The department has regrettably decided to go down the path of a data free-for-all in the name of accountability," said Barmak Nassirian, an associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.
In a statement, the Education Department said the new rules would strengthen its enforcement powers, helping the department "hold those who misuse or abuse student information accountable." It is also publishing guidance on protecting student privacy under the new rules.