As a student in an advanced educational program, such as a masters degree program or a doctor of nursing program, you possess specific rights in relation to the privacy of your educational records. One such protection is found in the state laws in which your program is located, including right-to-privacy statutes or articulated state constitutional protections. However, the overriding privacy protection for you as a student 18 and older in post-secondary academic programs is the Buckley Amendment to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974. FERPA applies to all schools that receive funds under programs administered the U.S. Department of Education.
FERPA broadly defines education records as records that contain [personally identifiable] information directly related to a student and which are maintained by the educational agency or institution or a party acting for the agency or institution. You must be actively in attendance in the educational program for FERPA to apply to your educational records. Student records can be handwritten, in print, magnetic tape, film, a diskette, an electronic image or any other format or medium.
You are given the following rights under FERPA: (1) the right to access your educational records; (2) provide consent for the release of information from your educational records; (3) the right to be informed of a schools policy concerning release of information from your educational record; and (4) the right to object to any information in your educational record and how to challenge the information.
These rights are not without their limitations, however. For example, your right to access education records does not include the right to examine law enforcement or campus security records which are solely for law enforcement purposes. Nor can you review a professors documents that are in the sole possession of the professor and not released or accessible to others, such as a grade book or anecdotal notes. Similarly, if you have waived your right to access, inspect or review letters of recommendation you used for entrance into the academic program, you do not have the right to inspect those letters.
There are exceptions to the need of the academic program to obtain your written consent to release your educational records as well. Those non-consensual exceptions include: to other professors, administrators, instructors and attorneys of the institution who have a legitimate educational interest in your educational record; to another school in which you seek to enroll; to financial aid programs; when a health or safety emergency exists; when a lawful subpoena or court order is received; and directory information (defined as information in your educational record that is generally not harmful or an invasion of privacy, such as your name address, major field of study, degrees awarded, awards received).
So, what are the practical effects of FERPA? Some of its many benefits include:
Providing you with access to your educational records and allowing you to challenge inaccurate or incomplete information within the parameters required by FERPA;
Generally requiring your consent for disclosure of information in your educational record;
Allowing you to file a complaint with the Family Policy Compliance Office of the U.S. Department of Education if your rights are violated;
Prohibiting the posting of grades or other information about your progress in a particular course using personally identifiable information about you (e.g., name, Social Security Number) or using any other recognizable method or coding;
Prohibiting a discussion of your progress in a particular course with another person unless there is a legitimate educational interest in doing so;
Prohibiting the use of a printed class list that contains your name, student ID number or grade as an attendance roster;
Prohibiting graded projects or tests being left in a stack for students to pick up by going through the documents until a student finds his/her project or test while being able to see your and other students grades;
Mailing grades to you with your consent and in a self-addressed envelope and not by way of a postcard; and
Not using email as a routine means of sending you your grade or other information about your progress in a course, as the grade or information could be viewed by an unauthorized individual.