Publication Date: June 2009
Author(s): Sarah Buchanan
Research Area: Education
Keywords: Student privacy; Family Policy Compliance Office (FPCO); Records management; Educational records
Coverage: United States
Student records and privacy issues have received significant national attention following two pivotal events in 2008. Writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Steven McDonald addressed both the real and the perceived scope and limitations of student records legislation in light of administrators' expressed concerns regarding appropriate access to student information during campus safety emergencies and criminal investigations. Additionally, December 2008 saw passage of the first amendments to the Federal 1974 Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) since 2000, and the first significant mention of digital information with student data. This paper analyzes the impact of the recent amendments in the context of student privacy rights, and how traditional forms of access have significantly shifted since 1974 with institutions' modern usage of many forms of digital information-gathering. These measures, as revealed in the university illustration, are often specifically designed for institutional-level use, and as such are not Federally regulated or widely known to the affected, enrolled students. The paper suggests that digital records have still not been appropriately accounted for under the privacy mandate of FERPA. While FERPA is legislated at the Federal level and is connected to university funding, actual enforcement of its provisions is unspecified and compliance is the responsibility of diverse university administrations (private and public, large and small). Student document attributes and retention guidelines should be elucidated at the Federal, not institutional, level - and should include preservation guidelines for content in both native and digital forms implementable by records managers and archivists.