The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, better known as FERPA, is a Federal law that “protects the privacy” of a student’s educational records. Once a student turns 18 they become an “eligible student” and the guardian of their own personal information. That information includes grades, financial and behavioral records, and more, though it may vary by school. The bottom line? Parents no longer have the ability to call or email schools about any of this information unless their student grants them permission.
How each college or university chooses to handle FERPA compliance varies, but it typically begins by notifying the student of their rights under the law to keep their personal information protected, as well as asking them to confirm that they are a dependent student for tax purposes. This is sent annually.
This last part is especially important because it means that some records may be disclosed to the parent if they make a formal written request to the school, the student is under 24 years old, and the student is listed as a dependent on the parent’s tax returns.
The student can file a privacy form that gives permission to the school to share selected information with a parent, guardian, or other close friend or relative. Without this form, the school can withhold the student’s private information to stay compliant with FERPA. In addition, schools are required by law to issue an annual notice that explains the college’s FERPA policy on disclosing information.
Other sensitive information, such as threats to the student’s health or life (including self-harm), may fall outside of their FERPA policy. Each school’s policy on sharing this information varies.
It’s Your Student’s Decision
So what happens if a student doesn’t grant a parent the right to access their information? Parents may think they should have access to just some information, like grades, while others feel the need to stay informed of health and behavioral matters, too.
A Paying for College 101 member shared that her son wouldn’t grant her permission to have access to his records because he felt she was a “helicopter parent.” She asked the group what to do about her FERPA predicament. We’ve highlighted some responses from the community here.
What’s a FERPA Waiver?
Parents often refer to the forms a student signs to grant permission for their information to be shared as a “FERPA waiver.” However, a FERPA waiver is a designation on the Common App that saves your right to review the confidential letters of recommendation that guidance counselor, teachers, or other references send on your behalf. By signing the waiver, you let colleges know you don’t intend to read these letters.
As it relates to giving parents permission to access their student’s educational records, it’s actually a release form that must be signed to stay compliant with FERPA regulations. The “FERPA waiver” terminology in this instance is still commonly used among families.
You can’t actually get a waiver from FERPA. It’s a law, not unlike the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), that protects healthcare information. While a student can choose to share their academic information, they don’t actually waive their ongoing rights under the law.
What Can You Do?
If you want access to your student’s grades and other information, but they are resistant to sharing, you still have options.
Ask Your Student to Allow Access to Their Records
Many of the parents in our community pay for at least part of their students’ college education. As a result, they feel they should have access to their students’ grades.
Parent Heather E. said the question of whether she could have access to her son’s records was “non-negotiable” when they discussed college. She wanted access and he agreed to allow it.
“We have a rule – as long as I contribute financially in any way, shape or form, I get access to all your grades at all times!” – Kelly B.
Some parents argued that colleges don’t always tell parents when students are struggling, which is why it’s important for parents to have access to academic records.
“If I’m paying, I need to at least see a report card at the end of the semester to know how it’s going. Helicopter or not, I will be asking to see grades.” – Karen M.
Negotiate An Alternative
If your student is unwilling to allow ongoing access to grades, some parents suggested negotiating to receive academic information in other ways, and the importance of being clear about the benefits to you both.
Dannette H. said if a scholarship is dependent on grades, then parents should be able to see the grades. You don’t want to be caught off guard once it’s too late to help and the scholarship is lost.
Louisa T. said she helped pay for her son to attend college, but “the rule was he had to show me a transcript at the end of the semester.”
“I would look for a compromise. If you’d like to see final semester grades, explain why and then hear your kid out. If they stick to their guns, then say what your concern is.” – Lisa O.
Going away to college marks a milestone period in a student’s life as they transition from adolescence to adulthood.
That’s why mom Sophia O. said unless a parent thinks a student is failing, then why worry about academic grades? “Don’t they deserve your trust?” she asked.
Some parents felt that students who refuse to let them have access to their records might be doing so because they’re trying to assert their independence. Their remedy? Build trust.
How do you build trust? Tara H. advised that parents work to “cultivate a relationship where your kid wants to share.” Joy A said to start praising them for little things, and allow time for it to happen naturally.
Let It Go
Unless there’s a reason to worry, some parents advised to not argue with your student over their refusal to sign a release.
“If you know he’s a high-achiever and you just want to see the grades because you’re curious, then is this argument really worth it? Give him this win or you will have many more battles in the future.” – Kate D.
Alice W. said to “let it go,” especially if you suspect that your child is doing well in classes.
And Jodi O had this to say to the community member who posted about her son: “It sounds like he wants to learn to manage this stage of life on his own, which should be what we want our young adults to do. If he’s not failing, then give him some breathing room.”
Should You Pursue an Academic Information Release?
As these responses show, the best way to handle things if your student says no to allowing access to their records will vary from family to family.
In the end, students don’t have to sign a release, but you should keep the lines of communication open so you’re both working towards the same goal: graduating from college!
Use College Insights to help find merit aid and schools that fit the criteria most important to your student. You’ll not only save precious time, but your student will avoid the heartache of applying to schools they aren’t likely to get into or can’t afford to attend.
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