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Directory Information

FERPA permits public disclosure of directory information without the student's consent unless the student has requested that directory information be withheld.

What is Directory Information?

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. FERPA requires each institution to define its directory items.

At Penn State, the following information is considered directory information:

A student's directory information may be released to an inquirer, outside the University, unless the student specifically requests that directory information be withheld. However, FERPA does not require that directory information be released—it is at the discretion of the institution. It is Penn State's practice not to provide mailing lists to third parties. For more information on appropriate use of student data, review Penn State's guideline ADG06. Penn State is not subject to Pennsylvania's Right to Know law.

Any information not specifically listed as directory information is considered non-directory information.

When is Directory Information Not Really Directory Information?

It is important to also understand the concept of "implicit disclosure." An implicit disclosure may occur when a list consists only of directory information but the list itself by definition reveals non-directory information. For example, a list of names and email addresses of all students who have a particular grade-point average reveals the students' GPAs. Likewise, a class list containing names and email addresses of the students reveals class enrollments. Since neither grade-point average nor class enrollment are directory items, releasing these lists without prior consent of the students constitutes a FERPA violation.

There are many vendors offering services to streamline and improve instruction. Services such as WebAssign (an online homework and testing tool) and Piazza (a discussion tool) provide benefits to faculty and to students, often at no fee. Usually in order to use these services, the instructor must provide a class list to the vendor. Since class enrollment is not directory information, we must comply with FERPA before releasing this information to the vendor. FERPA either requires us to have the consent of every student to release his/her non-directory information, or to have a contract in place with the vendor containing four specific clauses. If an instructor is considering using any vendor product that requires student information, then the instructor must first check with purchasesoftware@psu.edu to see if an appropriate contract is in place between Penn State and the vendor.

How Does a Student Request that Directory Information be Withheld?

The student must complete and sign the Request to Withhold Directory Information form to keep directory information confidential. At Penn State, we call this "requesting confidentiality" and we mark the student's record as "Confidential." The signed form must be taken in person, or mailed along with a copy of photo identification, to any campus Registrar's office. If an email address is provided, notification will be provided to the student when the directory hold is in effect.

A request to withhold directory information results in the following:

How Does a Student Remove A Request to Withhold Directory Information?

A request to withhold directory information is in effect permanently, even if the student is no longer enrolled at Penn State, and can only be removed by the student in writing.

The student must complete and sign the Request to Release Directory Information form. The signed form may be taken in person, or mailed along with a copy of photo identification, to any campus Registrar's office. If an email address is provided, notification will be provided to the student when the directory hold is released.