FERPA: Frequently Asked Questions

FERPA is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99) which is a Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. The law applies to all schools that receive funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education.

Frequently asked questions about FERPA

If you're a student, it's important for you to understand your rights under FERPA.

If you're a parent, you'll need to understand how the law changes once your student enters a post-secondary institution.

If you're an employee of UMass Dartmouth with access to student education records, you're obligated to comply with FERPA and to protect those records according to the law.

FERPA gives students four basic rights with respect to their education record:

  • the right to control disclosure of their education record
  • the right to review their education record
  • the right to request amendment of inaccurate or misleading portions of their education record
  • the right to file a complaint regarding non-compliance of FERPA with the Family Policy Compliance Office of the U.S. Department of Education

Education records are defined as records, files, documents, and other materials that contain information directly related to a student and are maintained by UMass Dartmouth or by a person acting for the University. Education records take many forms, including paper and electronic.

Education records include:

  • Grades
  • Class lists
  • Student course schedules
  • Disciplinary records
  • Student financial records
  • Payroll records for employees who are employed as a direct result of their status as students (e.g. work study, assistantships, resident assistants)

The following records are excluded from the definition of education records:

  • "Sole possession" records made by faculty and staff for their own use as reference or memory aids and not shared with others
  • Personal observations
  • University law enforcement records
  • Medical and mental health records used only for the treatment of the student
  • Alumni records
  • Peer graded papers and exams prior to the grade being recorded in the instructor's grade book

There are many offices at UMass Dartmouth that record comments and notes regarding students. These may be kept in the student file in a department or college. It is important for anyone recording notes regarding an interaction with a student to understand that unless these notes fall into the category of "sole possession" records (see definition in question 5 above), then they are part of the student's education record and subject to FERPA. Since FERPA gives the student the right to review any or all of his/her education record, these notes could be included in that review.

Therefore, it is important that notes or comments be factual and objective and that employees who are recording notes or comments avoid making value judgments or using inappropriate language.

It means that a student's education records may be disclosed only with the student's prior written consent. The prior written consent must:

  • Specify the records to be released
  • State the purpose of the disclosure
  • Identify the party(ies) to whom disclosure may be made
  • Be signed and dated by the student

UMass Dartmouth students who wish to have information released must complete the FERPA Authorization To Release Confidential Information Form found at Registrar: Student Forms

Yes, prior written consent is not required when disclosure is made under the following conditions:

  • To University of Massachusetts’ officials who have a legitimate educational interest.
  • To schools in which the student seeks or intends to enroll.
  • To authorized state and local representatives, subject to the requirements in Sec. 99.35.
  • In connection with financial aid for which the student has applied or received.
  • To certain state and local officials or authorities, subject to the requirements in Sec. 99.38.
  • To organizations conducting studies for, or on behalf of, educational agencies or institutions.
  • To accrediting organizations to carry out their accrediting functions.
  • To parents, as defined in Sec. 99.3, of a dependent student, as defined in Sec. 152 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986.
  • To comply with a judicial order or lawfully issued subpoena.
  • In connection with a health or safety emergency.
  • Information the educational agency or institution has designated as “directory information”.
  • To the parent of a student who is not an eligible student or to the student.
  • To a victim of an alleged perpetrator of a crime of violence or a non-forcible sex offense, subject to the requirements in Sec. 99.39.
  • In connection with a disciplinary proceeding at an institution of postsecondary education, subject to the requirements in Sec. 99.39.
  • To a parent of a student at an institution of postsecondary education regarding the student’s violation of any federal, state, or local law, or of any rule or policy of the institution, governing the use or possession of alcohol or a controlled substance if:
    • The institution determines that the student has committed a disciplinary violation with respect to that use or possession and
    • The student is under the age of 21 at the time of the disclosure to the parent.
  • The Solomon Amendment which requires institutions to release certain directory information to military recruiters. (If a confidentiality request was made by the student, then information will not be released.)

“University Official” is any individual employed by the University of Massachusetts’ (“System Office") or one of its campuses, (the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, including the Mount Ida Campus of UMass Amherst; the University of Massachusetts, Boston; the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, (including its school of law, University of Massachusetts School of Law, Dartmouth); the University of Massachusetts, Lowell; the University of Massachusetts Worcester, a/k/a the University of Massachusetts Medical School,) (individually a “Campus”) who has a legitimate educational interest in the student information. These individuals include; but, are not limited to instructors; faculty; advisers; admissions counselors; academic advisers; employment placement personnel; deans; department chairpersons; individuals serving on an official committee, such as a disciplinary or grievance committee; individuals assisting a University Official; directors; law enforcement personnel; health staff; counselors; attorneys; Advancement Office employees; the president; members of the University of Massachusetts' Board of Trustees; auditors; collection agents.

A University Official may also be an outside contractor or other agent of the University of Massachusetts’ Campus or the System Office, where the Campus or the System Office or both are outsourcing institutional services or functions, and:

(a) The outside contractors or other agents are under the direct control of the Campus or the System Office or both with respect to the use and maintenance of the education records; and

(b) The outside contractor or other agent may not disclose the information to any other party without the student’s consent, and may not use the information for any purpose other than the purpose for which the disclosure was made.  In addition, further disclosures may only be made upon the prior written authorization of the respective Campus or System Office.

FERPA permits university employees to have access to student education records in which they have "legitimate educational interest." Such access does not require prior written consent of the student.

But what constitutes "legitimate educational interest"? A University Official has a legitimate educational interest if the official needs to review an education record in order to fulfill his or her professional responsibilities for the University of Massachusetts.  

It is important to understand several points related to "legitimate educational interest:"

  • Curiosity is not a legitimate educational interest. Just because you have access to COIN and are able to view the record of your neighbor's son, does not mean that you have a legitimate educational interest in his grades and cumulative GPA.
  • Simply the fact that you are a university employee does not constitute legitimate educational interest. Your need to know must be related to your job responsibilities in support of the university's educational mission. In other words, records should be used only in the context of official business in conjunction with the educational success of the student.
  • Your legitimate educational interest is limited. While you may have a need to access education records for students in your college, you do not necessarily have a similar need to view records of students outside your college. In other words, access to information does not authorize unrestricted use.

FERPA permits each institution to define a class of information as "directory information." FERPA permits public disclosure of directory information without the student's consent.

Directory information is information contained in a student's education record that would not generally be considered harmful or an invasion of privacy if disclosed. UMass Dartmouth's directory items include the following:

  • Name
  • Address (permanent residence and electronic mail)
  • Telephone number
  • Class level (semester class or level: first-year, sophomore, junior, senior, etc.)
  • Major field of study
  • Acknowledgment of a student’s participation in officially recognized activities and sports
  • Weight/height (athletic teams)
  • Dates of attendance
  • Enrollment status (full-time, part-time, or not enrolled)
  • Date of graduation
  • Degrees, certificates and awards received
  • Most recent educational institution attended
  • Graduate students who are teaching credit courses only: work department, office address, and employment category

No. Although items may be designated by UMass Dartmouth as directory information, only a limited amount of this information is disclosed by UMass Dartmouth officials. The University retains the discretion to refuse to disclose directory information if it believes such disclosure would be an infringement of the student’s privacy rights. Lists of students including any directory information above are not normally allowed to be released for non-UMass Dartmouth purposes.

FERPA requires each institution to allow students to block disclosure of their directory information. The following are consequences of a student placing confidentiality on their record:

  • Student name will not appear in the commencement program.
  • Verification of enrollment, graduation, or degrees awarded will not be provided to third parties, including potential employers and insurance companies.
  • No information will be released to any person on the telephone or via email.

To block disclosure of directory information, students must download the FERPA Restriction of Release of Directory Information form available at: Registrar: Student Forms

Requests for confidentiality are permanent until removed in writing by the student.

According to the law, a person becomes a student for purposes of FERPA when they are "in attendance" at an institution. This includes attendance in person or remotely by videoconference, satellite, Internet, or other electronic and telecommunications technologies. At UMass Dartmouth, we define a student as someone currently or previously enrolled in any academic offering of the University. This does not include prospective students or applicants to any academic program of the University.

According to UMass Dartmouth policy, FERPA becomes effective on the first day of classes for those newly admitted students who have scheduled at least one course. A student who accepted an admission offer but did not schedule at least one course, or a newly admitted student who canceled his/her registration either before or after the semester begins, is not covered by FERPA.

"University officials" are permitted access to student education records without student consent as long as those officials have a "legitimate educational interest" in that student's record. The student's permission is not required.

I am interested in conducting research and I need information from student transcripts. What do I need to do?

Anyone conducting research using information from student education records must receive approval for that research from UMass Dartmouth's Office of Institutional Research. In addition, researchers who are utilizing student education records in their research must agree to:

  • Use the information only for purposes of the approved research project. Any new use of the information requires new approval.
  • Provide adequate protection for the information to ensure that it is not compromised or subject to unauthorized access.
  • Ensure that no one outside the research team has access to the information.
  • Destroy the information within a reasonable time after completion of the research.

In primary and secondary educational institutions (i.e. K-12), all FERPA rights belong to the parent. However, when the student reaches the age of 18 or begins to attend a post-secondary institution regardless of age, all FERPA rights transfer to the student. Disclosure is allowed to the parents, as defined in 34 CFR §99.3, of a dependent student, as defined in section 152 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986.

Yes. According to FERPA, education records can be provided to "parents of a dependent student, as defined in Section 152 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954”.  The parent must provide a copy of their most recent federal income tax return establishing the student’s dependency to the Registrar’s Office in order to invoke this release. Full rights under the Act shall be given to either parent, unless the University has been provided with evidence that there is a court order, state statute or legally binding document relating to such matters as divorce, separation or custody that specifically revokes those rights.

Yes. Parent/student designee access is designed to preserve the integrity of the student's UMassD Logon while allowing involved parties to securely view information that a student wishes to share, including paying a bill and accessing 1098T information for tax purposes.

Within the COIN Student Center, students set up the designee (parent or other individual) and create the username and password for the account. It is the responsibility of the student to:

  • Maintain this designated account
  • Interact with the designee to answer questions
  • Resolve any password issues

The student may modify or withdraw access at any time. Multiple designees may be created with varying access levels. For example, a parent might have access to view grades and make payments, while a guardian has access only to make a payment.

It is important that a student NEVER share his/her own UMassD Logon with anyone, even a parent or guardian—especially since the UMassD Logon is now used to authenticate access to email, HR Direct, myCourses, and other critical university systems.

  • Parents/student designees will have view-only access to most items. They cannot, for instance, register a student. The only action a parent/student designee can take is to pay the student’s bill.
  • The provision of access by the students to the parent/student designee does not replace or change university policy about administrators having discussions about the student with parents or designees. Current confidentiality and FERPA procedures will be followed.
  • Only the student can add, delete, or change the access given to a particular parent/student designee. If a parent/student designee calls and requests access, they will be directed to contact the student.

A student can grant parent/designee access to the following COIN functions:

  • Academics: Class Schedule, Advising Report, Course History, Grades, Transcript, Enrollment Verification
  • Bursar/Billing Information: Account Summary, Health Insurance Form, 1098 Ts, Waivable Fees, Invoices, Make a Payment
  • Financial Aid: View Financial Aid/Award