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
Degrees & awards received
Most recent previous school attended
Non-directory Information – Cannot be released without student’s consent
Grade Point Average
Social Security Number
Detail of Registration Information (i.e., courses, times)
Race, Ethnicity, or Nationality
Date of Birth
Number of Credits Enrolled in a Quarter
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.
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? Such questions include: What are educational records? And What is a school official (as defined by the Student Handbook)?
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).
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