What is FERPA?
FERPA, or the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, was passed into law by the US Congress in 1974, and has undergone occasional amendments since its passing. FERPA is a law that governs the release of, and access to, a student’s Educational Record. FERPA also affords students certain rights regarding their Educational Records, which will be covered later.
Applicability of FERPA
FERPA applies to any institution that receives monies or funding from the federal government. Monies or funding includes, but is not limited to Financial Aid Programs, as well as other government or agency grants, cooperative agreements, contracts, subgrants, and subcontracts with the federal government. Georgetown College receives monies or funding from the federal government and is therefore required to comply with the provisions of FERPA.
- 99.1(d) of FERPA states “If an educational agency or institution receives funds under one or more of the programs covered by this section, the regulations in this part apply to the recipient as a whole, including each of its components (such as departments within a university).”
This statement means that if an institution must comply with FERPA (such as Georgetown College), the regulations of the law not only apply to the institution as a whole, but also to each component of the institution. For example, even if one individual or one department was found to be noncompliant, the entire institution could be held responsible.
Noncompliance with FERPA is a serious issue. If noncompliance is identified in any area of the institution, the institution could lose federal funding. This could mean things such as students not being able to use federal loan money at the institution. Obviously, loss of federal funding could be devastating to an institution.
Eligibility under FERPA
FERPA is concerned with the rights of “eligible students.” The term “eligible student” is a two-part definition in which the two parts are mutually exclusive of one another. An eligible students is: (1) An individual who has reached the age of 18; or (2) An individual who attends a postsecondary institution.
This means that any student enrolled in a course at an institution is eligible for the rights afforded under FERPA. Due to the fact that the definition of eligible students is two, mutually-exclusive, parts, a student that is not 18 years of age, but enrolled in a course at a postsecondary institution, would be protected under FERPA.
For example, high school students taking classes at Georgetown College are FERPA protected by Georgetown College, but not the high school. High school administrators would be able to disclose information to parents without consent because FERPA would not apply to them as a high school student.
Rights of Students
As mentioned in the What is FERPA? section, FERPA affords eligible students certain rights pertaining to their education records. FERPA provides eligible students with the right to:
- Inspect and review their educational records
- Request to amend their educational records
- Limit disclosure of “personally identifiable information”
- File a complaint with the Department of Education concerning an alleged failure by the institution to comply with the Act.
Education Records are the focus of concern under FERPA and they are governed by the privacy rights afforded under FERPA. The definition of “Education Record” is a two-part definition and both parts of the definition must be met to be considered an “Education Record.”
Education Records are:
- Directly related to the student; and
- These are records that contain “Personally Identifiable Information” (PII) about a student. PII is defined as the kind of information or data from which the identify of a specific person can be determined. This includes, but is not limited to: student’s name; name of student’s parents or other family members; addresses; personal identifiers such as social security number, ID number, or biometric record; indirect identifiers such as date of birth, place of birth, mother’s maiden name
- Is maintained by an educational institution or party acting for the institution.
If a document or record meets both parts of this definition, it is considered an Educational Record and is governed by the privacy rights afforded under FERPA.
There are also certain exceptions to Education Records. These exceptions include the following:
- Sole possession records – 99.3 of FERPA defines sole possession records as: Records that are kept in the sole possession of the maker, are used only as a personal memory aid, and are not accessible or revealed to any other person except a temporary substitute for the make of the record.
- Law Enforcement Records
- Employment Records
- Medical Records
- Alumni Records
- Grades on peer-graded papers before they are collected and recorded
Law enforcement, employment, and medical records are created by specific individuals in a professional capacity and used only for the purpose of the professional activity. These records become education records under FERPA when they are introduced into an education record or student file – such as when a psychological assessment is introduced into a student record by the dean of students to make a determination about impediments to academic progress in a particular term.
In order to share information contained within an eligible student’s education record, the sharer must receive consent from that student stating they allow for the transfer of the protected information. However, there are certain instances where student consent would not be required.
The following are instances when student consent would not be required:
- To school officials who have a “legitimate educational interest”
- School officials have a legitimate educational interest when, in the exercise or completion of their responsibilities on behalf of the institution, they incur the need to know and utilize specific information from education records.
- Legitimate educational interest does not provide access to all of a student’s records but only to those records for which the specific need to know exists.
- To officials of another school, school system, or institution of postsecondary education where the student seeks or intends to enroll, or where the student is already enrolled as long as the disclosure is for purposes related to the students’ enrollment or transfer
- To federal, state, and local authorities involving an audit or evaluation of compliance with educational programs
- In connection with the awarding of financial aid
- To organizations conducting studies for, or on the behalf of, the College
- To accrediting organizations to carry out their accrediting functions
- To parents of an eligible student if the student is a dependent for IRS tax purposes
- To comply with a lawfully issued subpoena or court order
- In response to a health or safety emergency
- In connection with the release of the results of a disciplinary hearing to an alleged victim of crime of violence
- To parents of a student regarding the student’s violation of any Federal, State, or local law, or of any rule or policy of the College, governing the use or possession of alcohol or a controlled substance if the College determines the student committed a disciplinary violation and the student is under the age of 21
- In response to a request for the release of directory information
FERPA allows for institutions to share what is defined as “Directory Information.” This is defined as information contained in an educational record that would not generally be considered harmful or an invasion of privacy if disclosed. FERPA also allows for each institution to define what is contained within its “Directory Information.” This information at Georgetown College includes the following:
- Student’s Name
- Home address
- Campus address
- Telephone number and email address
- Date and place of birth
- Major field of study
- Participation in officially recognized activities and sports
- Weight and height of athletic team members
- Dates of attendance and full-time/half-time enrollment status
- Degrees and awards received
- The most recent previous educational agency or institution attended by the student
- Denominational preference
- Other similar information
What to Do
How can you stay in compliance with the regulations of FERPA? One tip is to always assume a student’s consent is needed in order to share information. If you operate under this assumption, you will be less likely to share information that is contained within an education record without the student’s consent.
Information regarding FERPA and its regulations can also be found in the Georgetown College Course Catalog.
If you ever have a question regarding FERPA, education records, information contained within education records, or anything similar, please contact the Registrar’s Office at 502-863-8024.
Violations of FERPA
Potential violations of FERPA should be directed to the Registrar’s Office.
Each individual area/department of the institution is responsible for monitoring its FERPA compliance. If an area/department is suspected, or found, to have violated the provisions of FERPA, a report must be sent to the Registrar’s Office detailing the circumstances of the violation, as well as the resolution for correcting the violation and preventing future violations.
Georgetown College is required by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to notify students of their rights under the act or, if pre-college students, their parents of the rights.
- Students must be given, upon request, the opportunity to inspect their educational records.
- Georgetown College must provide an opportunity for students, if they desire, to challenge the content of their records.
- Georgetown College must make a determination of who within the institution has a legitimate educational interest in, and thus access to, student records.
- Georgetown College must issue a public notice of what categories of information about students the College intends to treat as “directory information” and thus releasable without specific prior written consent. The following constitutes directory information for Georgetown College: name, address, telephone number, date and place of birth, major field of study, participation in officially recognized activities and sports, weight and height of athletic team members, dates of attendance, degrees and awards received, the most recent previous educational agency or institution attended by the student, denominational preference, and other similar information. Any parent or student refusing to have any or all of the designated directory information disclosed must file written notification to this effect with Georgetown College at the Registrar’s Office within two weeks after registration day of the semester. In the event a refusal is not filed, the College assumes that neither a parent of a student nor the eligible student objects to the release of directory information.
- Georgetown College must inform third parties to whom information is given about students — for example, graduate schools students apply to — that such information may not be passed on to fourth parties.
- Georgetown College must keep a record of persons, other than employees of the College, who request or obtain access to student files.