Penn State Mark

FERPA Scenarios

  • The adviser of a fraternity, who is a Penn State faculty member, has asked that you provide the grade-point averages for all of their members in order that scholarships and academic honors can be awarded. Can you provide this information?

    Yes, you can provide the information to the adviser, but you should remind the adviser that he must not release the information to the fraternity members.

    A better alternative is to ask the adviser for the scholarship requirements, then provide a list of only those members who meet the requirements.

  • Instructor Morris who teaches MATH 141 comes to you with a request for the MATH 140 grades and cumulative GPA's for three of his current students. Can you provide this information to him?
    (Note: MATH 140 is a prerequisite for MATH 141)

    Instructor Morris has a "legitimate educational interest" in knowing the MATH 140 grades of the students since it's a prerequisite course for MATH 141. However, he does not have a need to know the students' cumulative GPA's.

    Instructor Morris could, alternatively, run the prerequisite class list in eLion to determine if the students have satisfied the necessary prerequisites for MATH 141.

  • A parent calls to talk about his son who was dropped to nondegree-conditional status. What can you tell the parent?

    The cautious approach is not to discuss any specifics of the student's situation. Instead, discuss in general terms the policies and procedures surrounding nondegree-conditional status and what the next steps are for students in this situation.

  • An FBI agent comes to your office and asks for a copy of a student's transcript. The agent is performing a background check on the student. Can you release the transcript?

    Only if the agent presents you with a written release signed by the student specifying that the transcript can be released to the FBI.

  • An applicant provides a high school transcript as part of his Penn State application. The student is not admitted to Penn State. Another university asks for a copy of the transcript. Can we provide it?

    No. Even though the student did not enroll at Penn State and, therefore, his transcript is not part of our educational record, FERPA prohibits us from re-disclosing an educational record received from another institution unless we have the student's written consent.

  • A local politician requests a list of names and addresses of all 18-year-old students to send them a letter urging them to register to vote. The politician's office promises that the information sent to the students will be non-partisan in nature. Do you provide the list?

    No. Although name and address are directory items, release is at the discretion of the institution. Penn State does not release mailing lists to third parties.

  • You receive a phone call from the local police department indicating that they are trying to determine whether a particular student was scheduled for a class on a specific day and time. Since they are in the middle of an investigation, are you permitted to share a copy of the student's schedule with them?

    No, not without a subpoena or court order. Send any subpoenas/court orders to the Registrar's Office.

  • You receive a frantic phone call from an individual who says that he is a student's father and must get in touch with her immediately because of a family emergency. Can you tell him when and where her next class is?

    No. You may offer to send someone to the student's class to find her and ask her to call home. Contact Police Services or Student Affairs to locate the student.

  • A parent wants the ability to speak weekly with his daughter's instructors to discuss how she's doing in her classes. The daughter is willing to sign a release form. Are you required to honor this request?

    No. The only disclosure requirement in FERPA is to the student. Even with the student's consent, we are not required to disclose the records to anyone else. The decision regarding whether or not to engage in this sort of dialog with the parents is up to the faculty member/department head.

  • A student has asked you to write a letter of recommendation for a job application. He stops by your office and drops off a folder containing a copy of his resume, the description of the job, and the address where the letter is to be mailed. You notice that the student's GPA is on his resume. May you include the grade the student received in your class in the letter?

    No. Without the student's written permission, you may not disclose any portion of the student's educational record, regardless of what the student has disclosed in his resume. FERPA requires explicit (not implied) consent.

    A Request for Letter of Recommendation form is available to allow students to request letters of recommendation and to authorize inclusion of information from their education records.

  • A caller indicates they are performing a background check on a former student in preparation for a job offer. You do not have written consent from the student to release his educational records. Can you speak to the caller? Are there any questions you can answer?

    Yes. You may answer questions regarding your personal observations of the student. You may also provide directory information (e.g. major, degree received). However, without written permission from the student, you may not reveal any information from the student's educational record.

  • A student in your online class has a confidentiality hold. The student indicates that because of her confidentiality request, she is unable to participate in the required online chats among her classmates. Do you have to excuse her from this portion of the course?

    No. Confidentiality does not permit the student to impede or be excluded from classroom communication. The student may not be anonymous in class and must participate in all required components of the course.

  • A student who is a high school junior enrolls in a Penn State course during the summer. The student is 16 years old. The parents ask for a copy of the student's grades. Are you permitted to release the grades to the parents since the student is under the age of 18?

    No. When the student enrolls in a post-secondary institution regardless of age, all FERPA rights belong to the student.

  • A former Penn State student has transferred to another university and is now enrolled there. A change was made to the student's Penn State record after the record was sent to the new university. Must you obtain the student's written consent prior to sending the updated record to the new university?

    No. FERPA permits an amended record to be sent to the new institution without the student's consent as long as the disclosure is for purposes related to the student's enrollment or transfer.

  • You have a letter of recommendation supposedly from a student's adviser at a previous institution. You have reason to believe that the letter has been forged. Is it permissible to return the letter to the alleged creator for verification without the student's permission?

    Yes. FERPA permits the return of a record to the creator or originator of that record in order to verify authenticity without the student's permission.

  • Are comments and notes related to a discussion you had with a student considered part of the education record?

    Yes. If those comments and notes are kept in a file that is accessible to others. Unless they are "sole possession" records, comments and notes 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 University employees who are recording notes or comments avoid making value judgments or using inappropriate language.

  • You've found an interesting new online tool that you'd like to use as part of your class. Is it OK to upload your class list to the vendor's website so that students can log in to the site?

    No. Since class enrollment is not directory information, uploading a class list constitutes a release of non-directory information and either requires the prior consent of every student or a contract with the vendor containing four FERPA-specific clauses. If an instructor is considering using any hosted vendor product that requires student information, then the instructor must first check with to see if an appropriate contract is in place between Penn State and the vendor.

  • You are interested in conducting research and need information from student transcripts. Since you have access to transcripts on the data warehouse, may you simply run a query to extract the data you need for your research?

    No. Anyone conducting research using information from student education records must receive approval for that research from Penn State's Office of Research Protections. In addition, researchers who are utilizing student education records in their research must agree to the following FERPA conditions:

    • 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.