We had a rare request for a post on a specific topic come in and it’s the slow(er) season so why not oblige? Here’s what this BSer wrote:
We would be interested to read a Blagh post on Fountain Hopper and the apparent loophole in the 1974 Family Education Rights and Privacy Act that gives students access to otherwise confidential admissions files.
This could unearth potentially valuable information for declined applicants, but it feels… marginally ethical.[BSer]
First off, anyone who’s submitted any apps should be very familiar with the FERPA law – or at least, with checking a little box on the part of the application where you submit your recommenders’ names and contact info. You remember, the one that asks if you waive your right to view the recommendation? Yeah, that one. That’s FERPA.
Here’s how the language shows up on the current Stanford GSB MBA application:
Under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, enrolled students have access to their education record, including letters of reference. However, you may waive your right to see your letters of reference, in which case the letters will be held in confidence.
And here’s what HBS tells you:
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (Buckley Amendment) allows you to access your educational records if you enroll at Harvard Business School. You may waive your right of access to this specific report if you so choose. Your decision to waive or not to waive your right of access will have no bearing on the evaluation of your application; however, once you submit this information it cannot be changed. Most applicants waive their right to access.
As you can clearly see from that text, this Act only applies if you’re enrolled at the school – not simply an applicant, or even an admit. It’s only when you’re enrolled do you become a student, and FERPA applies to students.
In case you didn’t click on that link, the Times article is talking about a group of current Stanford undergrads who got this idea to get everybody to request their student records – and yes, they include admissions records.
But, to the BSer-who-sent-in-the-question: Sorry but no, no “potentially valuable information for declined applicants” since these records are only available to current or former students of a school.
Unless you mean that information on why one student was accepted is useful to someone else who was declined? When it’s Stanford… undergrad or grad… our opinion is “doubtful.”
The lack of transparency in admissions is definitely a frustrating thing – and Stanford GSB is the worst of the worst in that regard. However our opinion of this trend at Stanford U. is that it’s just a little bit self-absorbed.
Because let’s get real. These are kids who got into Stanford. Sure it may be interesting to know what your high school counselor said about you – but really?!?? What bearing does that have on anything today? You already know you’re all that – you made it into like the best university in the whole d@mn world. Isn’t this just an opportunity for ego-stroking?
The admissions records would even be of only marginal use to an admissions consultant. Why someone GOT IN to Stanford (GSB or undergrad) is almost always obvious from a review of their profile. Sure, it would be interesting, just because anybody is interested to know what happens behind the curtain, right? But any (good) admissions consultant would not find new information in how the adcoms run their departments. They already know how that works, based on seeing the inputs and the outputs of many, many candidates over the years. That’s how EssaySnark got good at this. We’d be surprised if we were surprised by much of what any of those records disclosures contain.
As to individuals requesting their records: We don’t see it as unethical in any way. Symptomatic of the well-worn stereotype of the Millennial generation? Oh yes, definitely that.
Now, if you mean that it’s unethical for people to PUBLISH their own admissions records… Not sure about that. Definitely a grey area for us. No idea if that’s what these kids have in mind.
EssaySnark is no lawyer but it seems like FERPA is defining these records as the student’s property. That would mean that legally the student can do whatever they want with them. Yet clearly the admissions records reveal the inner workings of an organization that has a major advantage when done in private. So publishing them – even if they’re yours to publish – could do some harm. And what’s up with a student looking to harm their own school? Have they no pride???
That being said: The schools know these records are releasable to the students.
If there’s anything in the records that would cause damage to the school’s ability to operate its admissions process effectively, then they should KNOW NOT TO INCLUDE THEM.
That may be impossible, of course. How do they do their job in evaluating the candidates if they can’t record their evaluations of the candidates in the record?
Yeah, tricky situation. But it’s not like the Sony leak where there were all those embarrassing emails published. In this case, the administrators are aware (or should be!) that what they’re doing is legally disclosable to the subject they’re doing it to.
There’s lots of smart people at Stanford University. We’re confident that if this does build into some type of movement (rather than being just the blip which we expect it to be) then those smart people will figure out a way to keep their internal processes private while still complying with the law.
One easy answer? They can simply destroy the admitted students’ admission file after enrollment. That’s likely not an appealing solution for the school, but it would work. FERPA has no requirement about records being maintained, and also does not require destroyed records to be recreated just to comply with a FERPA request.
Or the schools’ll just lobby Congress to change it. Lots of money at Stanford – and Harvard, Wharton, Booth, et al. Perhaps they can get an amendment in there that excludes the admissions piece. After all, they could argue that the student is not yet a ‘student’ (per FERPA’s own definition) when they go through the admissions process, and thus those records should be exempt. Or something.
We’ll be watching.
Oh yeah: In terms of this happening at other schools: Stanford GSB is the most black-box of all the black-box schools. Seeing why someone was admitted at, say, UCLA is going to be even less helpful. Just our two cents. But any student at most any post-secondary institution in the U.S. has the ability to request their records. This obviously isn’t a Stanford-only thing.
Thanks for asking the question, BSer! Anyone with their own opinions on this is as always invited to comment.
PS: If you’re serious about advancing your career, it is a very smart move to be reading The New York Times every day.
UPDATE: Apparently the Stanford University admissions department is going to mass-delete their files in response to the influx of these FERPA requests. That’s one way to handle it….