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Student Privacy & FERPA Overview

What is FERPA?

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records by: (1) limiting the information that institutions can share about a student, and (2) providing students with the right to inspect their education records and to request amendment to their records.

Who is a Student?

Any individual who is, or has been, in attendance at Stanford University, including: exchange students, non-matriculated students, and Students of New Faculty (SNF). Student status begins on the first day of the first quarter of enrollment, and continues after the student graduates or otherwise separates from the University.

Who is not a Student?

The following are not considered to be students under FERPA and do not have a right to view their education records: applicants to degree programs, admitted students prior to the first day of the first quarter, visiting student researchers, and conference participants. Requests for information about postdoctoral fellows should be forwarded to the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs.

What is an Education Record?

Any record directly related to a student and that is maintained by the University, including records maintained by faculty and staff. An ‘education record’ is broadly defined to include shared handwritten or electronic documents, emails, and other materials relating to a student (e.g., spreadsheets, video and audio recordings, computer files, grades, etc.). Education records include:

  • Evaluative records about admissions decisions (e.g., rankings)
  • Formal or informal evaluative discussions regarding academic progress and review (e.g., candidacy, oral exams)
  • Letters of recommendation for which the student did not waive FERPA rights
  • Faculty and committee meeting minutes

FERPA was adopted in 1974 before email, iPhones, iPads, texts, and the ability to retain large numbers of records on computers and servers. In considering education records, it is important to think about the many types of communications that we use and where these records are stored.

What is not an Education Record?

The following are not considered to be education records under FERPA:

  • Sole possession records (personal notes, not shared with others)
  • Applications to degree programs and associated evaluative materials (once a student enrolls, these become education records)
  • Employment records (unless associated with student status – e.g., TA, RA)
  • Public Safety records (unless shared by the student)
  • Health records (unless shared by a student)

Retention of Records

With the exception of admissions records, the University does not maintain specific retention policies for most types of student records. Generally, records may be deleted prior to a FERPA request. For email, this requires that all parties copied on the communication delete the files from their inbox, sent file, trash, and any folders in which they have stored the correspondence. Once a FERPA request has been received, records cannot be purged, and the University has 45 days to provide the records.

Why FERPA Matters: The Current Landscape

Students are increasingly aware of their rights under FERPA, resulting in a dramatic rise in student requests to view their education records. This includes:

  • Students using requests for education records (e.g., emails) as a basis for academic grievances
  • Students using requests for education records as a means of protest

Such requests place a significant burden of time and effort on faculty and staff.

Questions?

If you have questions about FERPA, student privacy, or confidentiality, please contact Susan Weersing (weersing@stanford.edu; 723-1205) or Laura Schlosberg (laura16@stanford.edu; 736-4214).

Here is a link to a printable document of this information.