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An Inside Higher Ed article published March 30, 2017, sparked some anxiety about students’ privacy on Handshake, the partnering recruitment platform for University Career Services and one of the fastest-growing talent-recruitment startups in the country.

Inside Higher Ed interviewed a sample of students and alumni from universities across the country that utilize Handshake. According to the report, many claimed they did not remember uploading personal information such as their GPA onto Handshake or even signing up for the service altogether.

The universities accused of disclosing information about their students’ grades without their written consent – which would be a violation of the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act – maintain that at some point the students gave Handshake permission to display that information.

The Inside Higher Ed article suggests that this disconnect may be because of users’ cursory reading of the specific terms of service on Handshake’s website, combined with the fact that each college uploads a certain level of information about students.

However, a former head at the U.S. Department of Education’s Family Policy Compliance Office pointed out that a potential FERPA violation could arise if Handshake received student data from a college that was not specified in the privacy policy and then shared that data with recruiters.

Even if these colleges are not technically liable, students argue that universities should not be hiding under the legal curtain of the terms and conditions of Handshake’s website. Instead, they should be much more transparent and responsible about what student information they release to recruiting platforms and other third-party members.

Yet the story at the University is quite different. In contrast with the disconnect at other institutions, Director of Princeton Career Services Eva Kubu confirmed that the University’s relationship with Handshake is a much safer one, aimed at protecting as much personal student information as possible.

According to Kubu, the University only shares “directory-level information” – name, residential college, and expected year of graduation – with Handshake and nothing more. Any other personal information, including GPA, must be manually inputted by students.

In terms of profiles, Handshake allows all students to choose whether they want to publicly share their profile or have it remain private. However, University student profiles are never fully “public”; employers can only find student profiles if the student has connected directly to their company through Handshake’s application process and already agreed to share their profile publicly on the site, according to Michael Caddell, Senior Associate Director of Strategic Communications & Marketing at Princeton Career Services.

Kubu also emphasized that there is a strict vetting process for all employers who request access to the University's Handshake platform. These employers and recruiters who engage with University students are obligated to follow specific best practices guidelines set by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, as well as the University’s nondiscrimination policies and Career Services’ policies.

Apart from these guidelines, these employers must show that they can provide a “substantive learning opportunity” for University students, Kubu added. According to the Career Services privacy policy, no third-party recruiters such as executive search firms are eligible to participate in Handshake.

“We want to make sure that we are truly protecting student safety when it comes to these opportunities,” Kubu said.

The University has been utilizing Handshake after its agreement with the career services platform since September 2015. Career Services involved current University students in the decision-making process to partner with Handshake, inviting them to the Handshake demo to try out the site and factoring in their feedback from the very beginning, Kubu explained.

Students were most impressed by Handshake’s social interface, allowing it to be much more interactive and user-friendly than traditional recruitment platforms, Kubu added.

The site has grown in popularity every year at the University. Caddell mentioned that as of March 2017, 93 percent of the undergraduate student body has been participating in Handshake to some degree. 84 percent of the current freshman class is already engaged with the system.

Because every University student receives a Handshake profile, all parents of the incoming Class of 2021 were invited to attend a Career Services event during Princeton Preview in April, Caddell said. There, Career Services explained the basics of Handshake and informed all parents that more information on how incoming freshmen students can sign up while protecting their private data arrives the summer before attending the University.

Career Services is still constantly absorbing student feedback about the site in order and forming it into operational recommendations for Handshake’s executives, Caddell added.

Both Caddell and Kubu explained that new employers are being added to the system all the time based on student demand, and students have recently shown a greater interest in jobs relating to arts and engineering.

In addition, Career Services is actively working to add more and more companies led by University alumni to the Handshake system in an effort to further strengthen the University's robust alumni network. Furthermore, Career Services is trying to expand its programs such as Princeton in Washington, which promotes student-alumni engagement in the D.C. area during the summer.

“We are trying to make sure that every student has substantive contact with alums, from the beginning of their time at Princeton all the way through connecting with their full first-time opportunity,” Kubu said.

Handshake was founded in 2014 by three engineering students at Michigan Technological University with the goal of providing the 20 million higher education students across the country an equal opportunity to any employer, no matter where they go to school, the Handshake website reads.

According to its main website Handshake has partnered with more than 170 university career centers and more than 3.5 million students since its founding, not only aiding the students but making it easier for more than 120,000 companies to recruit most efficiently beyond their traditional “core” schools.

In a continued effort to make the site easier for the average user to understand, Handshake is preparing to update its terms of service ahead of the National Association of Colleges and Employers conference in June 2017, according to the Inside Higher Ed article.

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