Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act

Privacy nowadays almost seems to be a thing of the past. With social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram, people seem to be willing to share everything about their lives with the general public. In education, however, privacy laws remain in tact and students should be aware of what can, and cannot, be shared freely.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act was enacted in 1974 and applies to all schools that receive funds from the federal government; this includes k-12 schools and public colleges and universities. FERPA, as it is commonly known, was developed to provide students with some control over the release of their educational information, the right to inspect and review their educational records, and amend records. The act specifies the differences between “directory” and “non-directory” information and allows certain private information to be released without the student’s written consent.

Directory Information – Can be released without student’s consent

Name

Address

Telephone number

E-mail address

Enrollment status

Major

Degrees & awards received

Most recent previous school attended

Non-directory Information – Cannot be released without student’s consent

Student number

Grades/Exam Scores

Grade Point Average

Social Security Number

Parent Address/Phone

Detail of Registration Information (i.e., courses, times)

Race, Ethnicity, or Nationality

Gender

Date of Birth

Total Credits

Number of Credits Enrolled in a Quarter

Emergency Contact

Students are able to block the release of all private information by notifying the school’s Registrar in writing. When a block has been placed on a student’s record, school officials cannot release any information to any third-party, including parents and spouses.

Review of Records

FERPA also grants permission to students and parents whose children are under the age of eighteen the right to review their educational records. Requests are typically made to the Registrar’s Office in writing. Amendments to educational records can also be requested, in the event that inaccurate information is discovered.

Student Notification

On a yearly basis, schools are required to notify students and parents of their rights under FERPA. This is typically done via a PTA bulletin, student handbook, or campus newspaper, but with the rise of distance education, how are online schools notifying students of their rights? DeVry University provides students with access to a 10-question pamphlet regarding FERPA. Such questions include: What are educational records? And What is a school official (as defined by the Student Handbook)?

User Authentication

Because of the recent distance education boom, faculty and staff need to be much more aware of the potential for fraud and identity theft. Typically, colleges and universities require students to provide personal information (directory information) to a school official before proceeding with a conversation via phone or email; this helps to prevent the release of information to a person other than the student.

“In response to growing concerns over academic honesty in the online environment, Excelsior College of Albany, New York has included a specific statement about identity fraud in their academic honesty policy. The policy states that all forms of academic dishonesty are considered serious violations of the ethical standards of Excelsior College, but one that is considered particularly egregious is identity fraud. Any student who has another person impersonate or in any other way commit identity fraud in any course, exam or other academic exercise will be dismissed from the college” (Bailie & Jortberg, 2009).

References

Bailie, J. and Jortberg, M. (2009). Online Learner Authentication: Verifying the Identity of Online Users. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching. Volume 5, No. 2. Retrieved from http://jolt.merlot.org/vol5no2/bailie_0609.htm

Ashley Benson is a distance education professional with five years of experience in the for-profit sector. She has worked coast-to-coast within the United States as an academic advisor, an adjunct teaching assistant and, most recently, a campus Registrar. Through formal education and industry experience, Ashley practices staying informed on the current events and changes within higher education and the students involved.

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