Parents & FERPA

Parents can sometimes feel marginalized by the lack of academic information they receive from their child’s college—especially when the price tag warrants a high degree of their attention. We’ve provided the following information to 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 the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), forms the basis for Illinois 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 on how to suppress the release of public information. This policy is found in Article 3, Part 6 of the Student Code.

Significant to parents is the portion of the law that transfers all rights of the act to the student as soon as he or 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 Illinois, 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 frequently asked questions can be found on the Department of Education website.

All student data maintained by Illinois is part of the educational record, including but not limited to all biographical,  application, and matriculation data. Other than public information classified as directory information, there’s to be no release of the educational record to any party without the express written consent of the student. If your child has chosen to suppress their directory information, there’s less information to share. Instead, all staff are instructed to say, “There’s 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.

A few occasions exist in which a parent may have access to information in their child’s 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 the Student Code, Article 3-603 and 3-609), and, in limited circumstances, when a student has violated campus rules or other laws governing the use of alcohol or controlled substances (see the 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. Our best advice is to talk to your child. Remain involved and ask questions about their classes, their schedule, and their degree requirements. Following are some suggestions:

  • Confirm that your child is taking classes that fulfill the general education requirements.
  • Make sure that your child is on top of advising appointments, has selected all courses for early registration, and knows about their time ticket (or early registration time assignment).
  • If your child’s a senior, confirming that he or she has added their name to the applicable graduation list and has met with his or her college records officer.
  • Request that your student set up a login and password for you to access tuition and fee charges so you can see the itemized bill and payments.
  • Request to see specific information, including printouts from the student information system (Student Self-Service) that shows your child’s schedule, their academic history, grades (midterm and final), and GPA.
  • Request that your child order an official university transcript (an $8 fee required).
  • Request that your child print out their degree audit report, which shows progress toward degree requirements and what’s still needed (questions about this report should be referred to the college office). Sometimes students miss key information, so you can be very helpful by looking through the document and asking questions pertaining to your interpretation of the report.

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 they can’t release specific information about student academics to parents, they can respond to general questions about campus policy or how to handle a hypothetical situation. Remember, they’re 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.

Your child’s college dean is also available to assist with general questions pertaining to undergraduate academics. You shouldn’t hesitate to contact the Office of the Dean of Students if you have an emergency or other threatening concern about your student.