October 16, 2007

Sallie Mae backs off Freedom of Information Act demands

Posted in Student Loan News at 8:14 AM by Joe From Boston


I reported last week that Sallie Mas was using the Freedom of Information Act to force schools to divulge student contact information and a few other details. Looks like they’re backing off, according to the Chronicle for Higher education! Read the excerpt below; a paid subscription may be required to view the whole article:

Sallie Mae Backs Away From Using Freedom-of-Information Requests to Seek Students’
Addresses
By PAUL BASKEN

Sallie Mae, after taking action in at least three states to force colleges to provide it with contact information for their students, is backing off.

The company, which is the nation’s largest student-loan provider, described the shift in strategy after an advocacy group revealed last week that the lender had filed a New York Freedom of Information Law request asking community colleges in the State University of New York system to provide it with student names, telephone numbers, and mailing and e-mail addresses.

“Sallie Mae is reaching out to colleges to clarify that it was never our intention to require them to provide us with information they would not willingly share to help students make informed decisions about their loan options,” a company spokesman, Tom Joyce, said in response to an inquiry from The Chronicle.

Sallie Mae had made similar freedom-of-information-law requests of colleges in two other states, said another company spokesman, Conwey Casillas. He did not identify those two states.

The company filed its demands for the information late last month, around the same time that President Bush signed legislation enacted by Congress cutting more than $20-billion from the subsidies provided to lenders participating in the federally guaranteed student-loan program.

Sallie Mae said it wanted the student contact data to help it make more students aware of all of their low-cost loan options. The company, however, has acknowledged that as a result of the federal subsidy cuts, it expects its future profitability to depend more heavily on its ability to write unsubsidized “private” loans that are marketed directly to students.

The Bush administration, in response, told colleges last month that they can refuse requests for student contact data that are made under federal or state “freedom of information” laws.

In a letter from Diane Auer Jones, assistant secretary for postsecondary education, the administration said that a college is required to release students’ contact information—such as name, address, telephone listing, e-mail address, and major field of study—only if the college treats the data as publicly available “directory information.”

Ms. Jones said in the letter that federal law also prohibits a college from releasing information about students’ financial-aid status such as by releasing a list that contains contact data only for students who have received financial aid.

6 Comments »

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