When kids go to college, they begin to largely determine what parents know about their grades and other educational information—a big change from high school. The reason is the Federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, commonly known as FERPA.
“In higher education, students have the right to control who can see their educational information, not parental rights,” said Paul Lannon, a member of the National Association of College Lawyers.
This right allows college students to access and verify the accuracy of information, attempt to correct possible errors, and appeal if requested changes are denied. Parental access to academic, health, and other records often requires the student’s written permission, as FERPA rights typically transfer to the child when the child enters school.
It’s a major mindset shift, and many parents may be reluctant to hand the reins to children who don’t seem quite ready to accept them.
“We are most at risk of getting into legal trouble when parents want information that students don’t want to give,” Lannon said. “A lot of times, it’s about health. It could be pregnancy, it could be an LGBTQ issue or a transgender issue.”
Often, “students desperately want their parents not to know, especially if it’s related to an academic crime like drug or alcohol crime, sex crime, violent behavior or plagiarism,” he said. He added that when students and parents don’t agree to information sharing , the University’s FERPA policy may cause or exacerbate family tensions.
Experts say parents are often concerned about personal educational information that students often do not need to share without written consent, such as grades and other academic issues; academic accommodation, which students often have to pursue on their own; and links to drugs, alcohol, violence and sexual assault related issues; and athletic performance, including scholarships.
In a letter on the Ohio Defiance College website, Lynn Braun, assistant dean of campus health and director of counseling and accessibility services, urged parents to let their children handle things on their own in college and learn to “make life count” decisions , even if it sometimes ends up making mistakes. “
“The agency itself wasn’t designed to call parents every time a child has a problem,” Braun, a clinical consultant overseeing specialty, added in an interview.
what parents should do first
According to FERPA, once a child actually goes to college, he or she becomes a “qualified student” and thus becomes a guardian of personal information. Experts recommend that parents learn as much as possible about college-specific FERPA policies before their children enroll, as details can vary from institution to institution.
“Each college or university is required to publish an annual notice, sometimes called an ‘annual privacy notice’ or an ‘annual FERPA notice,'” said Lannon, a partner at law firm Holland & Knight in Boston. “These notices, which appear on the College’s website, set forth the College’s FERPA policy on disclosure.”
Lannon said that while the notices are often unread, they are important because they tell parents if and under what circumstances the university may release information without a student’s consent.
For example, the UC Santa Cruz website states that “disclosure of confidential student records to parents of financially dependent children is not permitted, regardless of the student’s age or financial status.” “This information can only be shared with parents with the student’s written consent, or in a health or safety emergency. “
At Bates College in Maine, parents claiming a student as a dependent “have access to education records unless the student expressly prohibits” According to institutional policy.
At the University of Missouri, disclosures are tax-dependent if they meet at least one of more than a dozen special conditions, including whether the student is, under university policy, dependent.
Experts say that if parents understand FERPA and how their children’s colleges interpret the law, they can develop productive relationships with college officials before and during their children’s college days. Experts suggest that students and their parents need to know what personal educational information students will share in college long before incoming freshmen and even before high school graduation.
“These are conversations, not directives,” Braun emphasized, adding that discussions can cover grades, drugs, alcohol, sex, roommates and more.
“As a parent, you know your students, so the summer before college is a great time to help them provide support they may need to work,” said Stephanie Quaid, dean of students at Marquette University in Wisconsin. “They can work without alarm.” Get up without getting up? Can they make an appointment and follow up? “
Lisa Heffernan, author and co-founder of Grown and Flyn Parents, a Facebook group for parents of teens and college students, said information about health care, mental illness and scholarship loss or risk is what parents want to know most. Has more than 250,000 members.
Heffernan said: “In principle, parents should have a hands-off policy, but because of the pandemic, many students are staying home during the critical transition period before college. They don’t have the chance to make the kind of mistakes, falls and hiccups that really do. Prepare them for college.”
Quade recalls that during the COVID-19 restrictions, “parents were used to doing everything for these students, including reading and responding to their emails. I saw new students text their parents when they registered to let them know what classes were going to be. According to FERPA, our elementary school relationship is with students, and parents’ expectations of what they learn about student life from us must become more realistic.”
A wide range of protected student information
There is a wide range of personal information students need to have when they attend college.
“FERPA covers a variety of personal educational information, all of which is contained in records related to students and maintained by educational institutions,” Lannon said. “Include directory information The College considers it ‘harmless’ and can be released publicly without the consent of the student. “
Typically, personal information includes name, year of graduation, major, possible address and phone number, and the student’s Social Security number. Lannon said students have the right to opt out of sharing personal information.
“It’s not just celebrities or public figures who need privacy, but also victims of crimes like sexual assault, or victims of being stalked or in need of restraining orders,” he said. Some could be involved in lawsuits or controversial cases. Divorce when they don’t want ex-spouse harassment or snooping. “
Some students’ experiences are often not part of their educational records. For example, if a student is being treated at a campus counseling center, the clinician’s treatment records are not part of the student’s education records, nor are law enforcement records if not shared with the college.
However, parents may be notified if a student is deemed to be a safety risk to themselves or others, although the University is not required to do so.
“Treating physicians have an ethical duty, and some state laws may require disclosure to parents with actual knowledge of a suicide attempt or plan,” Lannon said.
How parents receive and share information
Students should choose the information they want to share early on and take steps to make it accessible to parents.
“If students want to share all their information with their parents, the first, easiest and most effective thing they can do is to sign a written consent form on behalf of their parents and make it as broad as possible, like ‘I A record of all categories of education can be shared with my parents,'” Lannon said.
In turn, parents can share information they want schools to know about their children before their students enroll, and gain information about resources that can help determine whether a school is a good fit.
“If your child is accepted into college, we welcome your helpful information,” Quade said.
Braun of Defiance College invites parents to call her when they think their child will benefit from the counseling center, but she says she can’t ask students to get counseling — nor can she tell parents what happened to their students under FERPA and her own licensing requirements something or nothing happened.
College officials who frequently interact with students often choose not to disclose adverse information to parents, even if they have the flexibility to do so. In Marquette, for example, the policy is generally not to report first-time alcohol offenses, Quade said.
“We don’t actually want to run to your parents, and we don’t want you to lose your athletic scholarship. All we want to do is sit down with you and talk about what the infraction is.”
When that happens, Quade said, there are very few second violations.
“Our disciplinary system, like that of most colleges, is considered an educational process, so we will use FERPA for education.”