SA lobbies for University to stop using Social Security numbers

The Student Association Senate passed a resolution last week recommending that students have the option to remove their Social Security numbers from their transcripts.

The University phased out Social Security numbers from the library and GWeb portal systems last semester, but some students are still concerned about the numbers appearing on official transcripts. The resolution passed unanimously after second-year law student Aaron Titus lobbied for the item to get on the governing body’s agenda.

Titus said the use of Social Security numbers on transcripts can lead to identity theft.

“The reason for the optional removal of the SSN is obvious,” said Titus, who is studying information and privacy law. “The SSN is so closely tied to your security, and it can wreck your life (if stolen).”

The University uses the numbers in the Banner System for financial aid, payroll and tax-reporting purposes, in addition to transcripts and other official documents. Other databases and documents use the GWid number as the primary identifier.

The Office of the Registrar adheres to the guidelines of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, which does not recommend the removal of SSNs from transcripts, said University Registrar Elizabeth Amundson.

Amundson said removing the numbers on transcripts is theoretically a good idea, but could cause problems to certain types of students.

“I certainly do not oppose doing so,” Amundson said. “My biggest concern is that in doing so, we do not disadvantage our graduates in applications for employment or admission to graduate school.”

Amundson said that use of the number makes it possible for GW and other institutions to efficiently organize and find data on students.

“Institutions such as GW that receive many thousands of transcripts each semester from applicants to our programs rely heavily on the SSN as one piece of data on which to match incoming transcripts with applicant records in our database,” Amundson said. “While name, address and date of birth are also used for this purpose, those alone are frequently insufficient to make a match.”

Titus said that GW is in a minority of top universities that still require the use of Social Security numbers on transcripts.

“I understand the University’s position, but there are leading universities across the country that do not place SSN on transcripts,” Titus said.

He surveyed the “U.S. News and World Report’s Top 127 Colleges & Universities” to find out how many of GW’s peer institutions use Social Security Numbers on transcripts. Only 26 percent of the universities surveyed required the number on the document, according to Titus’ study.

Universities including Stanford and Princeton do not place Social Security Numbers on transcripts, according to the schools’ registrars.

“Princeton does not print Social Security numbers on transcripts, period,” said Princeton Registrar Polly Winfrey Griffin. “A student could not request that it be printed on a transcript.”

Amundson said only a handful of people have complained about the issue and that it is not a priority for the student body. She added that Titus’ plan has been broached before, but to change the procedure, the University would need to perform costly updates and make a “major investment of resources.”

Titus said administrators should not look at the issue from a purely financial standpoint.

“Everything is costly, but the cost of security is much greater,” said Titus. “The University has realized this (with GWid). It is not groundbreaking news.”

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