Family Educational Rights & Privacy Act (FERPA)

What is FERPA?

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, as amended (also sometimes referred to as the Buckley Amendment), is a federal law regarding the privacy of student records and the obligations of the institution, primarily in the areas of release of the records and the access provided to these records. Any educational institution that receives funds under any program administered by the U.S. Secretary of Education is bound by FERPA requirements. Institutions that fail to comply with FERPA may have funds administered by the Secretary of Education withheld.

What Are Education Records?

Under FERPA, education records are defined as records that are directly related to a student and are maintained by an education agency or institution or by a party acting for the agency or institution. Education records can exist in any medium, including: typed, computer generated, videotape, audiotape, film, microfilm, microfiche and email, among others.

Education records DO NOT INCLUDE such things as:

  • sole possession records, i.e., records/notes in sole possession of the maker, used only as a personal memory aid and not revealed or accessible to any other person except a temporary substitute for the maker of the record (this might include notes an instructor makes while providing career/professional guidance to a student);
  • medical treatment records that include but are not limited to records maintained by physicians, psychiatrists, and psychologists;
  • (employment records when employment is not contingent on being a student, provided the record is used only in relation to the individual's employment);
  • records created and maintained by a law enforcement unit used only for only that purpose, are revealed only to law enforcement agencies of the same jurisdiction, and the enforcement unit does not have access to education records;
  • post attendance records, i.e., information about a person that was obtained when the person was no longer a student (alumni records) and does not relate to the person as a student.

What Is Directory or Public Information?

FERPA has specifically identified certain information called directory information that may be disclosed without student consent.

Sonoma State University has designated the following information as directory information and will release this information, unless the student has submitted a request for non-disclosure:

  • Name
  • Address*
  • Telephone listing*
  • E-mail address*
  • Major field of study
  • Dates of attendance
  • Grade level
  • Enrollment Status (e.g., graduate or undergraduate; full-time or part-time)
  • Participation in intercollegiate athletics
  • Degrees received
  • Most recent educational agency or institution attended.
  • Photograph* (for faculty rosters only)

*Verify only, and for valid educational reasons. (Note that FERPA allows schools to disclose educational records, including but not limited to directory information, without consent to school officials with legitimate educational interests.)

  • Directory Information Provided to United Auto Workers**
    • Department employed and job title in which employed within the bargaining unit are added.
    • Address, telephone listing, and e-mail address, (not simply verification.)
    • This additional release is ONLY to the UAW and ONLY for those employed in Unit 11.

**Directory information for release only to the union representing Academic Student Employees (Teaching Associates, Graduate Assistants, and Instructional Student Assistants), for students employed in these jobs, includes the information above and also the job title and department in which the student is employed. In addition, for this purpose, address, phone listing, and e-mail address are released to the union.

Access to Student Education Records

According to FERPA, personally identifiable information in an education record may not be released without prior written consent from the student. Some examples of information that MAY NOT BE RELEASED without prior written consent of the student are:

  • birthdate
  • religious affiliation
  • citizenship
  • disciplinary status
  • ethnicity
  • gender
  • grade point average (GPA)
  • marital status
  • social security number
  • grades/exam scores
  • test scores (e.g., SAT, GRE, etc.)
  • progress/grade reports

The university will not release personally identifiable information from a student's education record without the student's prior written consent. Even parents are not permitted access to their son or daughter's education records unless the student has provided written authorization permitting the parents' access. Exceptions are noted concerning the privacy of student education records and includes: access by "school officials" who the institution has determined to have a "legitimate educational interest;" access by school officials at other schools where the student seeks to enroll; access for the purpose of awarding financial aid and subpoenas.

At SSU these terms are defined below:

"University official" is any person employed by the university in an administrative, supervisory, academic, research or support staff position, a person elected to the Board of Trustees, a student serving on an official university committee, or a person employed by or under contract to the university to perform a specific task. A "university official" has a "legitimate educational interest" whenever he or she is performing a task that is specified in his or her position, description, or by a contract agreement, performing a task related to a student's education, performing a task related to the discipline of a student, providing a service or benefit relating to the student or student's family (such as health care, counseling, job placement or financial aid) or disclosure of information in response to a judicial order or legally issued subpoena.

Restricting Release of Directory Information

According to FERPA, a student can request that the institution not release any directory information about him/her. Institutions must comply with this request if the student is still enrolled.

At SSU, students who wish to restrict the release of directory information about themselves must change their information on the SSU Student Information System (i.e. PeopleSoft). Students have the option of restricting all of their directory information. Students will be required to review their release information at the beginning of each academic year.

Students who wish to restrict directory information should realize that their names will not appear in the commencement bulletin and other university publications. Also, employers, credit card companies, loan agencies, scholarship committees and the like will be denied any of the student's directory information and will be informed that we have no information available about the student's attendance at SSU.

Student's Right to Review and Correct His/Her Records

Students and former students have rights to inspect and review their education records within 45 days from making such a request. The right of inspection and review includes: the right to access, with an explanation and interpretation of the record; the right to a copy of the education record when failure to provide a copy of the record would effectively prevent the student from inspecting and reviewing the record. The institution may refuse to provide a copy of a student's education record provided such refusal does not limit access.

Limitations exist on students' rights to inspect and review their education records. For example, the institution is not required to permit students to inspect and review the following:

  • financial information submitted by parents;
  • education records containing information about more than one student (however, the institution must permit access to that part of the records which pertains only to the inquiring student);
  • confidential letters and recommendations placed in the student's file before 01/01/75;
  • confidential letters and statements of recommendation, placed in the records after 01/01/75, to which the student has waived his or her right to review and that are related to the student's admission, application for employment or job placement, or receipt of honors. Upon a request from a student, he/she will be notified of the names of persons making the recommendations and that such recommendations cannot be used other than for the purposes for which they were intended.

Students may request that their education records be amended if they believe such information is inaccurate, misleading, or in violation of privacy rights. Students must request in writing that the office that maintains those records amend them. Students should identify the part of the records they want corrected and specify why they believe it is inaccurate, misleading, or in violation of privacy rights.

That office will review the request and inform the students in a reasonable amount of time after receiving the request. If the records custodian refuses to amend the record, students have the right to a hearing. A hearing officer appointed by the Vice President for Student Affairs will conduct the hearing. The hearing will be held within a reasonable amount of time after the request for the hearing has been received. The hearing officer will notify the student, reasonably in advance, of the date, place, and time of the hearing.

Students will be afforded a full and fair opportunity to present evidence relevant to the issue raised. One or more other persons, including an attorney, may accompany the student. The hearing officer/board will make its decision in writing based upon the evidence presented at the hearing. The decision will include a summary of the evidence presented and the reasons for the decision.

If the hearing officer/board supports the complaint, the education record will be amended accordingly and the student will be so informed. If the hearing officer/board decides not to amend the education record, students have the right to place in the education record a statement commenting on the challenged information and/or stating the reasons for disagreement with the decision. This statement will be maintained as part of the education record as long as the contested portion of the record is maintained, and whenever a copy of the education record is sent to any party, the student's statement will be included.

Types, Locations, and Custodians of Education Records

Types, Locations, and Custodians
Type Location Custodian
Academic Records Admissions & Records Registrar
Financial Aid Records Administration & Finance Director
Financial Records Customer Service Director
Health Records Student Health Center Director
Student Conduct Records Student Judicial Affairs Director


Filing a Complaint

If a parent or eligible student feels that the institution has not fully honored his/her privacy rights under FERPA, a written complaint may be filed with the Family Compliance Office, U.S. Department of Education, 400 Maryland Ave. SW, Washington, DC 20202-4605. The Family Compliance Office investigates each timely complaint to determine whether the educational agency or institution has failed to comply with the provisions of FERPA. A timely complaint is defined as an allegation that is submitted within 180 days of the date of the alleged violation or of the date that the complainant knew or reasonably should have known of the alleged violation.

Alumni Records

Senate Bill 569, Section 1, Article 5 authorizes the disclosure of the names and addresses of alumni of the California State University. The bill requires that the names, addresses, and electronic mail addresses of alumni be disclosed only to provide those persons with informational materials relating to the university and its programs and activities; to provide those persons, or the trustees, auxiliary organizations of the California State University, as defined, the regents, the board of directors, or the alumni associations with beneficial commercial opportunities; or to promote and support the educational mission of the university, the trustees, the regents, the board of directors, or the alumni associations.