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Primer for Parents: Understanding FERPA as it Relates to Your Student's University of Illinois Academic Record

Carol Malmgren, Registrar (April 2006 - April 2012)
January 2007, Updated January 2011

Sending a son or daughter off to college can bring about many conflicting emotions, whether it is the first or last child making the transition.  In view of the many enjoyable activities involving parents in earlier school years, such as Parent/Teacher conferences, backpacks full of every graded assignment and the quarterly report card, parents can sometimes feel marginalized by the lack of academic information they receive from their student’s college—especially when the price tag warrants a high degree of their attention!  This article provides an overview of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and other policies and principles in place at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) campus.  This information will help parents understand student record privacy issues in the higher education setting.

In 1974, federal law was enacted, in part, to protect the right of students to have an accurate educational record, protected from disclosure without their permission, and otherwise accessed only by school officials with a legitimate educational need to see the data.  This law, known as FERPA, forms the basis for UIUC policies now in place, such as: an annual notification to students of their FERPA rights,  which explains how they can inspect or correct their educational record, gives lists of data custodians of student record information, differentiates between public data (i.e., “directory information”) and confidential data, and instructs students how to suppress the release of public information.  This policy is found in Article 3, Part 6 of the Student Code, “Student Records—Guidelines and Regulations Governing Access and Release”.

Significant to parents is the portion of the law that transfers all the rights of the Act to the student as soon as he/she enters the higher education setting.  Article 99.5 (a) states, “When a student becomes an eligible student, the rights accorded to, and consent required of, parents under this part transfer from the parents to the student.”  At UIUC, this applies on the first day of instruction, even if the student is under 18 years of age—and is indefinite.  The full text of the Act and some FAQ’s for parents can be found at the Department of Education website.

All student data maintained by UIUC is part of the educational record, including but not limited to: all biographical, all application and all matriculation data.  Other than public information classified as “directory information,” there is to be no release of the educational record to any party without the express written consent of the student. If your son or daughter has chosen to suppress his/her directory information, there is less information to share.  Instead, all staff are instructed to say, “There is no information available for any student by that name.”  The University must comply with these federal regulations or be subject to penalties which could include loss of federal funding.

There are few occasions when a parent may have access to information in the student record.  These include: when a student gives written permission to release the information, when the parent can prove dependency status on a federal income tax statement (see Student Code, Article 3-603 and 3-609), and, in limited circumstances, when students have violated campus rules or other laws governing the use of alcohol or controlled substances.  (See Student Code, Article 3-603).  In a divorce situation, both parents are accorded the right to the record even if only one of the parents has proven dependency.

This clear-cut regulation can be frustrating for parents who have previously been privy to the details of their child’s educational history. How is a parent to know if the student is registered or attending class? What kind of grades is the student getting?  Is she/he making progress toward a degree? 

The best advice is to talk to your student.  Remain involved and ask questions about their classes, their schedule, and their degree requirements. The student’s college dean is available to assist with general questions pertaining to undergraduate academics, and you should not hesitate to contact the Office of the Dean of Students if you have an emergency or other threatening concern about your student!

Along with parents, University staff play an important role in the transition of a child from a dependent teen to an independent young adult.  Even though we cannot release specific information about student academics to parents, we can respond to general questions about campus policy or how to handle a hypothetical situation.  Remember, we are interested in and concerned about the progress and success of each student.  We want each individual to mature in ability to manage time, organize, and establish life skills, both academic and emotional.

The Office of the Registrar can assist students with course registration, tuition and fee assessment, transcripts, diplomas and enrollment verification at the Records Service Center located at 901 W. Illinois, Suite 140, Urbana.  Please phone, visit or email us at 333-6565 or registration@illinois.edu. Our web site is www.registrar.illinois.edu.

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Carol Malmgren (BS ’82 LAS, MS ’85 LAS, MBA ’01 COB) served as the Registrar from April 2006 through April 2012.  She grew up in Crystal Lake, Illinois attending Crystal Lake Central High School and has worked at Illinois throughout her career. 
As a parent of five children, all have left home for college to pursue a degree.