Confidentiality and Privacy

Maintaining confidentiality of respondents’ information and protecting their privacy is of the utmost importance. Below is information about the SED’s privacy policy and the data security procedures in place to maintain the confidentiality of respondent data.

Privacy Policy

The information provided on the Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED) questionnaire remains confidential and is safeguarded in accordance with the Privacy Act of 1974 and the National Science Foundation (NSF) Act of 1950, as amended. Per the Federal Cybersecurity Enhancement Act of 2015, your data are protected from cybersecurity risks through screening of the systems that transmit your data. The survey data are reported only in aggregate form or in a manner that does not identify information about an individual. The federal agencies and the data collection contractor for the SED take the strongest measures to safeguard respondent confidentiality. All federal agency employees and contractor staff involved in the SED sign binding confidentiality pledges. All processing facilities and computer systems are carefully designed and continuously tested to safeguard the information provided by institutions and respondents.

Confidentiality Safeguard Procedures

Only two groups can receive individual-identifiable data from the SED project:

  • The SED Federal Sponsors (for program evaluation)
  • Graduate School Deans (for their own graduates only)

Confidentiality safeguards prohibit the use of data for commercial purposes or for investigating an individual respondent or institution. Any independent researcher or contractor for the Federal agencies that performs analyses of the data must sign legally binding organizational and individual Data Use Agreements certifying that the institution will only use their data for statistical purposes and that the security of the data will be protected. Penalties for breaching these agreements range upward from $250,000, and audits of licensed users are regularly conducted by the Federal government. NCSES staff review all plans for analyses. If an analysis is found to have an identity disclosure risk, NCSES staff works with the researcher to remove this risk. Similarly, Graduate Deans must sign an agreement that they will only use the data for statistical purposes, and will safeguard the confidentiality of the responses. SED staff not only secures the survey materials and data, but also removes identifying information from any data and analyses provided to outside sources. Only data aggregated to levels that will not allow the identification of individual respondents are released for publication.

Use of Partial Social Security Numbers

The purpose of the partial Social Security Number (SSN) is for quality control by the survey contractor and for statistical purposes in program evaluation by the SED Federal sponsors.

In response to privacy concerns, only the last four digits of the respondent’s Social Security Number are requested. This partial SSN information is kept strictly confidential and is not used outside the project under ANY conditions.

We ask for partial SSN for two specific purposes:

  1. The major Federal agencies that sponsor the SED use the partial SSN to match the SED data to information on Federal funding support for graduate education. Congress and the Federal agencies require that information on the effectiveness of Federal programs be used in the funding process for these programs. Federal programs conduct program evaluations by using the SED to determine, for example, the percent of participants in a program such as the NSF Graduate Fellowship Program who have completed the doctorate. The U.S. Department of Education has used the SED to evaluate several graduate student aid programs, and the National Institutes of Health has used it to evaluate its graduate trainee programs.
  2. The SED uses the partial SSN to make sure that it does not have duplicate records for any doctorate recipient in the historical data file and to cross-reference individuals completing a second research doctorate. Legally, the partial Social Security Number is solicited under the National Science Foundation Act of 1950, as amended; provision of it is voluntary.