FERPA | What Every Employee Should Know

While the free flow of information is a hallmark of the college and university experience, there are several categories of information that shouldn’t be shared in order to safeguard student privacy and to comply with the law.

In 1974, lawmakers signed the Buckley Amendment, more commonly known as the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), into law. This landmark law is designed to protect the privacy of education records, to establish the right of students to inspect and review their education records, and to provide guidelines for the correction of inaccurate and misleading data through informal and formal hearings. 

This law applies to all institutions that receive federal funding.

The History of FERPA

Institutions began collecting student information back in the late 1800s, such as attendance and grades. And, as time moved forward, the amount and type of information became more and more complex. This information wasn’t protected by any legal guidelines and often times was shared with inappropriate parties.

Student records, both personal and academic, were often misused or misinterpreted during this time. Often, students or their guardians weren’t notified of record requests and couldn’t directly challenge the information located within those records. Records could include academic status, mental health, educator comments, etc. 

These growing concerns led to frustration within the American public and that is when FERPA was created to protect the privacy of student records.

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Records Covered by FERPA

FERPA law defines education records as those records that contain information which is directly related to a student and are maintained by an educational agency or institution or by a party acting for the agency. These records can be in any media form. 

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Education records involve personally identifiable information as it relates to students. Here are a few of the many types:

  • Registration Forms 
  • Transcripts 
  • Student Schedules 
  • Class Rosters 

Below are a few records that are not covered under FERPA:

  • Law Enforcement Records 
  • Employment Records 
  • Alumni Records
  • Sole Possession Records 

Colleges and universities are responsible for ensuring the privacy of education records. They must also make sure that students are afforded all the rights provided to them by FERPA. It’s important that all staff who interact with students and student information be thoroughly familiar with FERPA law.

FERPA FAQS

When does FERPA go into effect? 

FERPA rights for a student begin when the student is in attendance as defined by the institution. Typically, this means when a student is officially registered for at least one class and that class has started. FERPA rights continue after the student leaves the institution and are only terminated upon the death of the student.

 

What can be disclosed under FERPA?

Much of FERPA law is centered around the concept of disclosure. Disclosure means to permit access to, or the release, transfer or other communication of personally identifiable information contained in education records to any party, by any means, including oral, written, or electronic.

Education records may be released without consent only if all personally identifiable student information has been removed. It’s a safe and simple rule-of-thumb to guard against FERPA violations.

 

Can ‘Directory Information’ be disclosed?

Under FERPA law, colleges and universities may disclose, without consent, a category of data called directory information.

Directory information often includes basic information such as a student’s name, address, telephone number, email address, field of study, including majors and minors, honors and awards, degrees and certificates received, enrollment status, and dates of attendance.

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FERPA violations can have serious consequences for colleges and universities that fail to comply. Not only will noncompliant academic institutions be required to implement an action plan to ensure compliance, they also risk losing federal education funding.

So, it’s important to make sure all employees are well aware of FERPA and how to comply.

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Preview Our FERPA Training

Our engaging, evidence-based course covers important legal terms related to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), the general responsibilities of staff members under FERPA, FERPA's rules regarding confidentiality and disclosure, and the rights of students to access and inspect their own education records kept by the school.

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