One off the major transitions that you will face as parents will be the way you will be able to receive information about your student’s educational experience and what you are able to do on behalf of your student. For most of your student’s life, you’ve probably been able to call up one of his or her teachers whenever you had a concern, or log in to an online account to see his or her daily class grades. But as your student graduates high school and goes to college, the rules about how schools and parents exchange this type of information also change. This is because of a specific federal law: the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, or FERPA, which was established to protect the privacy of your student’s academic records and personal information.
FERPA is an acronym that you may have heard before. This law applies to all students, whether they are in elementary, high school, college, or graduate school, but FERPA’s rules change depending on the student’s level of schooling. Up through a student’s graduation from high school, parents and students share access to the student’s records. Again, this meant that you could get information from your student’s school whenever you wanted it. But, when a student enrolls at a college or university, the rights to receive and release this type of information transfer exclusively to the student.
What does this mean for me as a parent? This means that while you naturally have an interest in your student’s progress, you will no longer automatically have access to their educational records in the same way you did when they were in high school. Now you may be thinking, “But I’m paying the bill!” It’s not that we don’t recognize that, but the federal law considers college students to be responsible adults, and it allows them to determine who will receive information from their educational records. This impacts the ability of the staff of Residential Living and Learning to discuss some issues with you because the policy restricts others’ access to personally identifiable information about the student. Therefore, we are often unable to discuss matters specifically relating to a situation involving your son or daughter. Additionally, you may be unable to do things on behalf of your son or daughter because doing so would involve our releasing personally identifiable information and information that is likely part of their education record, as defined by FERPA.
How can I get information to advise my student? This doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to get information when you need to advise your student on how to make a decision or navigate a process. There are a number of ways you can receive information about your student’s situation. The fastest, easiest way is to have your student provide that information to you. You can visit the Registrar’s website for more information on the university’s FERPA policies and submitting a release form. It is very important to know that even though many university officials might not have your student’s permission to speak with you on a specific matter, we are always happy to answer general questions about our policies and procedures and to discuss matters hypothetically. In fact, we have found that in most cases, we can fully assist the vast majority of parent concerns in this way.
What should my student and I discuss now that will help in the future? One of the most helpful things you can do is to talk about this issue with your student, and discuss how you’d like to handle sharing information as a family. This may be a conversation you want to revisit periodically throughout their time at Stetson. There are many good reasons to put the responsibility to share information directly in the hands of your student. Remember that a student venting about a situation is different from a plea for you to intervene in the situation. It can also be helpful to discuss with your student how they can tell you when they want to handle something on their own or if they just need a little space. As a family, you’ll know how to make the decision that’s best for you.
-Written by A. Kay Anderson and Larry Correll-Hughes