What FERPA Means for You and Your College Student

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The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (sometimes referred to as the Buckley Amendment) was designed to protect the privacy of educational records and to establish the rights of students to inspect and review their educational records.  It also provided control over the release of educational record information.  The original intent of this legislation was to keep elementary and high school records private and to give parents access to their child’s school records.

 Once a student turns eighteen, or attends school beyond secondary school, the rights of access to the student’s records transfer to the student.  This means that all academic information regarding your college student goes directly to the student unless the student has given specific, written permission to release that information to someone else.  The exception to this law occurs if parents document in writing that the student is still claimed as a dependent for income tax purposes.  The college may require you to submit your most recent tax forms in order to support this claim.

 What does FERPA mean for you as a college parent? 

 Generally FERPA rules mean that student academic information such as grades or academic standing (GPA, academic transcript, academic warning, academic probation, or discipline records) will be given to the student and not to the parents. College students are considered responsible adults who may determine who will receive information about them.   College representatives are prohibited from discussing information about the student’s academic record with parents.  Most colleges have a waiver form which students can sign allowing records to be released to parents or college representatives, such as faculty members, to discuss records with parents.  Your student may, or may not, wish to sign this release. 

 Does this mean that you have no way to find out your student’s grades?

 Because FERPA legislation prevents parents from finding out student grades and academic standing directly from the school, the best way to find out how your student is doing is to ask him.  The sharing of student academic information with parents becomes a family issue rather than an institutional issue.  It is a decision that families should discuss and make together.  Perhaps one of the benefits of the FERPA rule is that is provides an additional opportunity for parents to communicate with their college student about their expectations and the student’s responsibilities.  Rather than seeing this legislation as a barrier to good college parenting, parents might see this as an important opportunity for meaningful dialogue with a student.

 If your college student signs a waiver, does this mean that grades will automatically be sent to you?

 If a student signs a FERPA waiver, it allows the college to release academic information if that information is requested.  This means that a parent will still need to request grades, they will not automatically be sent to parents.

 Do FERPA rules prevent college employees from seeing my student’s records?

 There are some individuals who will have access to your student’s records for professional reasons.  School officials with legitimate educational interest may have access to records, as well as officials from another school where the student intends to enroll or state or local educational authorities for the purposes of auditing or evaluating an educational program or federal law related to the program.  Directory information is less restricted.  This includes information such as name, address, phone number, varsity sport played, e-mail, major, dates of attendance, degrees received, or enrollment status,.

 Are there any exceptions to the restrictions limiting the release of student information?

 There is a health and safety exception to FERPA regulations.  If a student is considered a threat to himself or to others, or there is a need to protect the health and safety of the student for some reason, information may be shared with parents.  A school may also disclose to parents any violation of the use or possession of drugs or alcohol by students under twenty-one.  An important note here is that the law allows, but does not require, such information to be released to parents.  School policies may vary widely regarding parental notification policies.

 In sum . . .

 College parents often feel frustrated by FERPA regulations.  They feel that they need, and should have, access to student information.  As college parents, we need to remember that college students are working toward increased independence and responsibility.  Allowing them to determine who receives their academic information is a part of that growing independence.  Some students handle this responsibility wisely and some may struggle with it.  As with many aspects of the college experience, increased communication between college parents and college students will make the experience go smoothly for everyone.

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