Alternative Identifiers

Millions of students are enrolling in colleges/universities each year. To assist in this process, many colleges and universities use students' SSNs as personal identifiers. University collection and use of SSNs can increase the risk of identity theft and fraud. Each time an individual divulges his or her SSN, the potential for a thief to illegitimately gain access to bank accounts, credit cards, driving records, tax and employment histories and other private information increases. Because many universities still use SSNs as the primary student identifier, student exposure to identity theft and fraud remains. We strongly urge all educational facilities to use an alternate identifier (anything besides the SSN) for students and staff. This will help to ensure their privacy is protected.

In recent years, a number of nationally known universities have already moved from an SSN-based identification system to an alternate student identifier due to incidences of identity theft. Students, faculty, and staff are encouraged to, and typically do, use the university-assigned identification number instead of the SSN. Also, several universities have eliminated the display of student SSNs on identification cards and reports.

In fact in our region, which includes Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska, many colleges have found the cost of this conversion to be reasonable. Some have also stated that the increased peace of mind for students and staff have made any costs worthwhile.

Some institutions have taken very progressive action by creating a Chief Privacy Officer position and requiring that their employees who handle student records sign a disclosure statement acknowledging their Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) responsibilities and personal liability in the event of misuse.

An added reason for using an alternate identification number relates to foreign students. Foreign students who do not have jobs or valid job offers will no longer be eligible for SSNs under SSA regulation changes published in September 2004. Various institutional record systems must be changed to handle these students under alternate ID numbers.