FERPA Basics and Why It is So Important

When you complete your FERPA proxy and understand your privacy rights, those seemingly small steps are helping you to become the leader of your life.

By Sharon Callender — November 30, 2022

FERPA Basics and Why It is So Important

When you cross the threshold from high school senior to college freshman, you are leaping into the world of adulting. This is a time to discover and explore your unique adulting road map based on the unexpected detours and exciting discoveries you will make along the way. There are many roads, side streets, and trails on this map. Some roads will lead to a different opinion about a particular subject based on a class you took or a life-changing moment like meeting someone at first-year orientation who will become a lifelong friend. Inside and outside the college classroom, your adulting map will take you on a journey of independence and a deeper understanding of who you are.

A positive and productive transition to college life where you can thrive is rooted in self-leadership. Although you may have a robust support system back home or even on campus with academic advisors, encouraging professors who are mentors, and trusted peers, you are still the person in control of your experience. You hold the keys of responsibility. If there are important deadlines to remember regarding registration, a waiver to sign, or immunization records to be submitted, you are in charge of these tasks and to-do list items. These responsibilities can feel like a deep dive into freedom for some college students. In contrast, for others, it can be a stress-inducing exercise in frustration, especially when attempting to resolve a late fee issue, a hold on your account, or a registration problem.

As a college student, your autonomy is both a blessing and a burden at times. But this is the essence of being an adult. Your college experience is a microcosm of the "real world" and what adulting truly looks like.

One of your first college assignments where you step into your adult role is not in the classroom. It begins when you complete your FERPA proxy.

What is FERPA?

FERPA is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Simply put, once you are a college student, this Federal law gives you complete ownership of your education records. When you were in high school, your parent(s) or guardian could access this information without your express consent. Now that you are enrolled in college, only you can grant someone t he ability to access your records. Some of the items that fall under this category include grades, GPA, academic standing, classes you are taking, and information about your progress in your major and/or minor. Completing a FERPA proxy through your institution, allows you to give someone permission to access your education records.

Below is an excerpt of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act from the US Department of Education website. Click on the link to read it in its entirety: Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) (20 U.S.C. ยง 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99) 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.

FERPA gives parents certain rights with respect to their children's education records. These rights transfer to the student when they reach the age of 18 or attend a school beyond the high school level. Students to whom the rights have transferred are "eligible students." Schools may disclose, without consent, "directory" information such as a student's name, address, telephone number, date and place of birth, honors and awards, and dates of attendance.

However, schools must tell parents and eligible students about directory information and allow parents and eligible students a reasonable amount of time to request that the school not disclose directory information about them. Schools must notify parents and eligible students annually of their rights under FERPA. The actual means of notification (special letter, inclusion in a PTA bulletin, student handbook, or newspaper article) is left to the discretion of each school." Why is FERPA such an important part of your college journey?

FERPA may seem like another rule that must be followed or another reason to fill out more cumbersome paperwork. But in reality, the FERPA proxy is an empowering tool that gives you the authority to manage your circle of trusted allies. By deciding who can view and access your education records, you are thoughtfully taking ownership of your college experience.

Who Should I Add to My FERPA Proxy

Choosing who to add to your FERPA proxy depends on what you feel most comfortable. When deciding, consider the people who have been your strongest supporters emotionally and always have your best interest in mind. For most students, this might be their parent(s) or guardian, while some students may select a sibling or spouse based on their situation.

In addition, you can add more than one person to your proxy, and you are free to change/adjust who you have added by completing the appropriate update process at your college.

Remember, if you DO NOT add someone to your FERPA proxy and they contact an office such as academic advising or the registrar's office regarding your classes, grades, academic standing or academic progress, etc., your information will not be disclosed to them.

It is important to have a team of encouragers during your college journey. Creating your FERPA proxy designees is one of the ways to reinforce and solidify that support system. Having guidance and insight from trusted individuals, such as your parents, siblings, or guardian, will assist with your success. When you need to make pivotal academic decisions and may feel unsure, your FERPA proxy allows you to invite your "team" to be a part of your decision-making process.

For instance, if you have trouble scheduling a meeting with your advisor to di scuss your major due to class conflicts, and you also want someone you trust to be a part of the meeting because you value their perspective and knowledge, the person you designated on your proxy can start that conversation with your advisor if they are available. FERPA allows you to intentionally select people who can add value by being an additional set of eyes and ears when you are discerning a particular path or need assistance regarding an academic question or concern.

Being away from home, and not having the loved ones you depended on around, can be stressful. Still, it also gives you an incredible opportunity to be fully responsible for your success. When you complete your FERPA proxy and understand your privacy rights, those seemingly small steps are helping you to become the leader of your life.

Sharon Callender

Sharon Callender

Rev. Sharon Callender is an interfaith minister, assistant registrar, and coach with certifications in life purpose, mindfulness & spiritual coaching. She specializes in helping individuals discover clarity, healing, and self-love through creative expression. Sharon is also a published fiction author and poet who is currently pursuing her Doctor of Ministry (DMin) degree at The New Seminary.
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