Understanding Students’ FERPA rights

Samantha Sigler, Associate editor

Students’ privacy rights at Linfield College are protected under FERPA (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) — but many students do not fully understand what these rights are, or what they mean.

There are three main rights students have in regard to their education records, said Diane Crabtree, college registrar, and Ellen Crabtree, director of Academic Advising, in an email:

1) The right to inspect their records.

This means that a student can view their records in the Registrar’s Office (or other office managing the records). This usually doesn’t matter to most students, but if the need ever arises, it is good to know that students have this right.

2) The right to seek to amend inaccurate or misleading records.

This means that students have the right to ask us to change records that they think are inaccurate.  This does not apply to grades or decisions made by Linfield; however, those have other processes with which to appeal.

3) The right to control access to their records.

This means that students can give permission for a part of their record to be disclosed to someone else and that students get to decide whether or not Linfield can disclose their directory information. This includes basic information, such as ‘is this person a student at Linfield?’

The biggest misunderstanding for students is the different levels of releasing information, according to Diane and Ellen.
“Students may misunderstand the difference between consent to release directory information versus consenting to release academic information,” Diane and Ellen said in an email. “We think they also get confused about the process by which they can give or withhold consent to release information. The consent forms are on WebAdvisor.”

FERPA’s main benefit is giving students the power when deciding whether Linfield is able to disclose private information, according to Diane and Ellen. This includes directory information, such as whether a student is even attending Linfield College.

This is helpful when students are being stalked, are estranged from their parents or simply do not want others to know they are attending Linfield.

However, there are several unintended consequences that may harm students. If a student has placed a hold on their directory information, this means that Linfield cannot acknowledge to a third party that the student is indeed a student, according to Diane and Ellen. This includes verifying enrollment and graduation for potential employers.

Linfield also cannot publish the student’s name in any publications, including athletic programs and the commencement program.

“The good news is that a student can change their decision regarding disclosure of directory information at any time on WebAdvisor,” Diane and Ellen said in an email. “Control of their own information is a responsibility that students must figure out how to manage. A student’s consent to release information doesn’t obligate the institution to provide regular updates to the outsiders (including parents). We encourage students to develop effective ways to communicate with appropriate outsiders about academic and financial information.”

For more information about students’ FERPA rights, go to http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/ferpa/students.html