Recently in FERPA Category

Currently enrolled or formerly enrolled students have the following rights under FERPA:

  • the right to inspect and review information about them maintained by the institution (there are two exceptions to this: parents financial records and letters of recommendation the student has waived the rights to see);
  • the right to request an amendment to the record that the student believes is inaccurate or misleading (this does not provide them the right to request an amendment to a grade or an institutional judgement that they disagree with);
  • the right to file a complaint with the Family Policy Compliance office within the Department of Education if they believe that the institution has provided information to third parties without consent or denied them access to their own information.

Q: What parts of a student's record can be amended according to FERPA? If a student wants to challenge a grade received, can they amend the grade under FERPA?

A: The right to request an amendment to the student's education record pertains to information that the student believes is inaccurate or misleading. The student should write the university office involved, clearly identify the part of the record he or she wants changed, and specify why it is inaccurate or misleading. If the university decides not to amend the record as requested, the university must notify the student of the decision and advise the student of a right to a hearing regarding the amendment.

The right to amend a record does not pertain to challenging a substantive decision such as what grade was awarded. It pertains to a recording error. So, a student cannot challenge a grade via the amendment process allowed in FERPA, however, students can seek assistance for a grade disagreement with the Student Conflict Resolution Center (on the Twin Cities campus) or a comparable office on the other campuses.

Question: Can a high school obtain college records for an alumnus using a release that the alumnus signed when he/she was still in high school?

Answer: When state high schools request transcripts for alumni, these letters are often accompanied by signed releases from the high school's former students (forms created by the high school with signatures from the students before they graduated from high school). You may be wondering whether or not you can/should fulfill these requests.

Technically speaking, a signed release should be from an "eligible student." While in high school, the student does not qualify as an eligible student, as the record "belongs" to the parent in the K-12 arena. The receiving department should contact the student and obtain the appropriate signed consent. Until that consent is received, the college transcripts should not be released.

FERPA Q&A: Providing information to alumni

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Question: If alumni use a personal email address to ask questions regarding their student record, can you correspond with them?

Answer: It depends. The part of an alumni's student record that was created while they were a student continues to be protected under FERPA after they graduate. The directory suppression level selected by them while they were a student also remains in place (unless they change it). If they provided a non-U of M email address as a way to contact them, it's wise to inform them how to reactivate their U of M account or to only share general, non-student specific information. If you do respond to a non-U of M email address, be sure to use caution when providing private student data, as some personal email addresses may be shared by spouses or other family members.

If you are unsure whether or not it is really the student, or you are uncomfortable using a non-U of M email address to correspond with alumni about their record, it is reasonable to ask them to call you so that you can verify their identity or ask them to contact the Technology Helpline to reactivate their U of M email account. Alumni of the University are eligible keep their U of M email accounts so long as they access the account every three months.

Question: I am an adviser and an instructor is asking me questions about one of my students. What information can I release to an instructor?

Answer: An instructor's "need to know" the information they are requesting must be assessed when determining what student information can be shared. For example, if an instructor is teaching an upper-level course and is asking about a student's ability to successfully complete his/her course, or the student's performance in a prerequisite to the course s/he is teaching, the instructor has a legitimate need to know. Conversely, if the instructor is asking about performance in a course unrelated to the course s/he is teaching, that information should not be released as the instructor does not have a true need to know. Likewise, except in specific, identified situations, instructors are not entitled to a full list of grades or a transcript of a student without that student's written consent. When in doubt about what information can be shared, don't be afraid to ask why the instructor needs the private student data.

FERPA Q&A: Showing student photos at commencement

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Question: Your college wants to show a slide show of student photos prior to commencement. An email was sent to students who indicated they were participating in the ceremony, requesting they provide a photo for the slide show. The college is requesting to use University ID photos for students who don't provide a photo. Is this acceptable?

Answer: Yes and no. At the University of Minnesota, photos are not directory information, so students must grant permission for them to be publicly displayed (or shared). If students opt to provide a photo, those can be used for the slide show, but the college can't simply insert a University ID picture for students who didn't provide one.

FERPA Q&A: Spousal access to a student record

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Question: Can a spouse access a student record?

Answer: A spouse is considered a third party, and therefore must have the student's permission to access non-public information. For One Stop related information (e.g., registration, grades, financial aid, student account), a student can give his or her spouse access by using Parent/Guest Access. Parent/Guest Access gives the designated third party access to view online systems and to call or email with questions related to the access granted. For individual requests, such as obtaining a transcript on the student's behalf, the spouse must present a signed and dated statement from the student giving the spouse permission.

Question: Do you need to recreate or attempt to recreate records for former students?

Answer: If student educational data has been maintained and destroyed according to the University's retention schedule, the University is not obligated to recreate destroyed records. If, however, the record still exists (even if it has been maintained well beyond the required time stipulated in the retention schedule), and a student or former student requests access to it, the record cannot be destroyed.

Question: Can colleges and/or departments within the college communicate to students with a directory or full suppression of their record?

Answer: It depends. College staff, including those in a marketing department, can send college-related communication to students, including those who have suppressions on their records, if the information pertains to their role as a student. University staff who have a "need-to-know" may access student contact information, regardless of suppression level. The information of students with address or full suppressions, however, cannot be given to individuals or organizations outside of the University. Colleges should, of course, be respectful of any student's desire to "opt out" of marketing-type communications.

FERPA Q&A: Posting information on social media

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Question: What should you do if a student posts a question or comment on social media and the response would require release of private student data?

Answer: Students are often more relaxed about posting their private information in public spaces than they should be. Even if the question was asked in a "public forum," such as Facebook or Twitter, we should never include private student information on any social media site.

If you are able to answer the question with general, publicly available information, please do so, as other students (or readers) may be interested in the response. If the person has posted private information, you may want to send a direct message to him or her explaining the importance of not posting that information publicly.

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