What is FERPA?
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a federal law that affords parents the right to have access to their children’s education records, the right to seek to have the records amended, and the right to have some control over the disclosure of personally identifiable information from the education records. When a student turns 18 years old, or enters a postsecondary institution at any age, the rights under FERPA transfer from the parents to the student (who becomes an “eligible student”). The FERPA statute is found at 20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99.
If I am a parent of a college student, do I have the right to see my child’s education records, especially if I pay the bill?
As noted above, the rights under FERPA transfer from the parent to the student once the student turns 18 years old or enters a postsecondary institution at any age. However, although the rights under FERPA have now transferred to the student, a school may disclose information from an “eligible student’s” education records to the parents of the student without the student’s consent if the student is a dependent for tax purposes. Neither the age of the student nor the parent’s status as a custodial parent is relevant. If a student is claimed as a dependent by either parent for tax purposes, then either parent may have access under this provision.
Can a postsecondary institution disclose financial records of an eligible student to the student’s parents?
If the student is a dependent for income tax purposes, the institution may disclose any education records, including financial records, to the student’s parents. If the student is not a dependent, then the student must generally provide consent for the school to disclose the information to parents.
May a postsecondary institution disclose to a parent, without the student’s consent, information regarding a student’s violation of the use or possession of alcohol or a controlled substance?
Yes, if the student is under the age of 21 at the time of the disclosure. FERPA was amended in 1998 to allow such disclosures. Also, if the student is a “dependent student” as defined by FERPA, the institution may disclose such information regardless of the age of the student.