MIT Will Release Student Birth Dates, Enhance Opt-Out System

MIT will release students’ dates of birth for statistical purposes, but it will not publish those dates. The release will take place in the fall, following a proposal discussed by Dean for Undergraduate Education Daniel E. Hastings PhD ’80 at a meeting with undergraduates last night.

The change would let MIT participate in an information-sharing system used by the 65-university American Association of Universities, Hastings said. It would also let the Institute include student birth dates with census information sent each year to the Cambridge Election Commission; this year, the information was only sent to the city with students’ written permission. That census information is used to confirm that people are eligible to vote in Cambridge, and the information may affect whether students are called for jury duty in Massachusetts.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act prevents MIT from disclosing some personal information about its students without their consent. Some basic facts may be revealed without getting permission first; these facts are called “directory information” and frequently include things like names and phone numbers. Each school decides on its own what constitutes directory information. Under the law, a student may ask for their information not to be released, and universities must abide by this opt-out request.

Four members of the AAU, including MIT, do not presently consider birth dates “directory information.” As a result, they cannot participate in the association’s data-sharing system, which provides information about, among other things, which undergraduates attend which graduate schools. The system considers students identical when they have the same name and birth date; it does not use other unique identifiers, like Social Security Numbers, which could cause substantial privacy concerns if they were leaked.

The change might also let employers verify a student’s attendance at MIT electronically, something which cannot currently be done, Hastings said.

According to an e-mail sent by Hastings to the UA, the proposal would “include date of birth as data we don’t publish but make available for MIT’s participation in statistical studies that are deemed by MIT to be of significant value to the university, with approval by one of the Deans or the Chancellor required to release the data.”

“Our intention is to make release a rare event,” Hastings said last night. In response to a student’s question about when MIT would release birth date information, Hastings said that the Institute would require a letter justifying the request. But he said that MIT would probably not check that justification.

Hastings said that students had raised few concerns about the proposal to him. He said that students had asked to make sure they were properly notified that the Institute would begin sharing their birth dates, and that it was clear how to opt-out of the sharing.

Last night, Hastings said that MIT would also expand directory information to include “honors and awards.” Like birth date, this category is so common that it’s listed on the Department of Education’s Model Notice for Directory information, available online at

The proposal, which is being considered by the chancellor and the Committee on Student Information Privacy, also includes plans to “strengthen the opt-out procedures,” Hastings said.

In order to prevent MIT from sharing directory information, a student must submit a written signed request that MIT verifies. Hastings said that an opt-out procedure “is already there,” but students may “have to search a bit” to find it. He said that part of the proposal would include increasing awareness of the opt-out option and making a printable form available online.

At last night’s meeting, students asked what practical benefit the AAU database access would yield. Hastings said that as part of applying for reaccreditation every ten years, MIT must say what graduate schools its students end up attending, a standard application of the AAU’s database.

Some students said that they considered birth dates private information. Brittany A. Holland-Marcus ’10 said that she had obtained confidential medical information about herself, such as lab test results, by calling MIT Medical and verifying her birth date.

If the policy is approved, it would likely take effect starting in the fall, and students would have a chance to opt out before Registration Day, Hastings said. MIT will review the policy every few years, he said.