What is FERPA and Why Should You Care?

by UMaineCLASAdvisingCenter

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA) regulates the keeping and dissemination of education records at all institutions that receive federal funds or who have students that receive federal funds. Procedures must be in place to allow a student access to education records. Consent must be obtained to release education records to a third party, with certain exceptions contained in the law. Directory information may be released without permission of the student unless the student has specifically requested that said information not be released. Types of information that may be disclosed as directory information include: student’s name, degrees and awards received, address, most recent previous institution attended, participation in officially recognized sports, activities, dates of attendance, major fields of study, e-mail address, class schedule, full- or part-time status, and photograph. Information which may not be released as directory information includes social security number, race/ethnicity or gender. Sounds like a lot of legal talk right? But what does it actually mean for you?

Colleges and universities have an obligation to protect the confidentiality of your information. FERPA has far reaching legal protection for your privacy and as a student it’s important for you to understand your rights. Now that you’re an adult, you have the right to control who has access to your education records; even your parents cannot have access if you don’t want them to. You are in full control of the disclosure of your education records.

These records consist of such things as grades, class lists, schedules, financial records, payroll records for work study, and disciplinary records. You have the right to control disclosures of these records. Only you can give written permission for your parents, or anyone else, to view these records. Faculty, advisors, and administrators cannot discuss these records with anyone but you unless you have provided written consent or to the extent that FERPA authorizes disclosure without consent (see section III of Student Rights). When a family member or third party calls looking to obtain your information they must provide the last four digits of their social security number (which you will provide on the Student Consent to Release Information).

The only information that the public may obtain without your consent is what is classified as “directory information.” This is information that wouldn’t generally be considered invasive, such as your name, address, telephone number, enrollment status, etc. However you have control over who sees this information as well. FERPA requires that every institution allow students to block directory information. Students have three choices pertaining to the release of directory information:

  • Do not release any directory information
  • Release all directory information
  • Release all directory information except address

The default setting is set to “Release all directory information,” if you wish to change the setting you may do so in your MaineStreet Student Center. However there are considerations to be made when selecting “Do not release any directory information:”

  • No employee at the institution can acknowledge your existence at the university without written permission for each request stating the exact circumstance and person(s) with whom to share the directory information.
  • Directory information requested by insurance and loan companies will not be provided without written permission.
  • Your existence will not be acknowledged for verification of degree or degree earned which may be requested for employment.
  • You will have your names withheld for distribution to any publication or newspaper which may affect announcements of recognition to local community news outlets

As a university student, you have entered in to the world of adult responsibilities and you should be aware of the choices that you have. Just as you have control over your academic career, such as picking your major and the courses you take, and how you manage your time or who you spend it with, you also control who can or can’t discuss your education. Essentially what this means is that your education belongs to you. You have the right to control access of your records. To sum it up, your directory records can be released if you do not change the settings in your student center, but any other education records won’t be released unless you have signed a waiver.

For more indepth information on FERPA, you can check out Student Records’ site, which explains it all in much more detail.

To test your understanding of FERPA take this pop quiz . I know it’s finals week, but it only takes a minute and when you are finished you can go and enjoy your summer!