Federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)

Policy on Access to Student Records under the Federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) of 1974, as Amended, which regulates a wide range of privacy related activities including:

  • Management of student records maintained by the University.
  • Regulations regarding who has access to student records.
  • For which purposes access to student records is granted.

The act also:

  • Permits the University to release limited directory information without a student's consent.
  • Guarantees students access to their records, and allows them to restrict such access to others.
Reason(s) for the Policy

The Federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, as amended, and its implementing federal regulations affords to persons who are currently, or were formerly, in attendance at the University as registered students a right of access to their "educational records" that contain information directly related to such persons. Persons who unsuccessfully applied for admission to the University are not covered by the Act. An unsuccessful applicant for admission to one of the schools or divisions of the University is not considered to be a "student" of that school or division even if the applicant is in attendance at another school or division of the University.

The Act also restricts the persons to whom the University may disclose a student's education records without the student's written permission.

Primary Guidance To Which This Policy Responds

"Educational records" of a student include records, files, documents, and other materials regularly maintained by the University that contain information directly related to a student and that are maintained in connection with the student's attendance at the University.

There are a number of types of records that are specifically excluded from the scope of the Act. For example, a student is not entitled to examine the following:

  1. Records maintained personally by faculty members that are not available to others.
  2. Records that are created or maintained by a physician, psychologist, or other recognized professional or paraprofessional that are created, maintained, or used only in connection with the provision of treatment to the student and are not available to anyone other than persons providing such treatment. Thus, for example, a student does not have the right under FERPA to inspect records maintained by the University Health Service or the Counseling and Psycho logical Service. Such records, however, can be personally reviewed by a physician or other appropriate professional of the student's choice, and a student may have a right to inspect such records under other laws.
  3. Records, such as those that might be maintained by the University's legal counsel, the confidentiality of which is protected by law.
  4. Records containing financial information about his or her parents, such as information submitted in connection with an application for financial aid.
Who is Governed by This Policy

All University personnel are governed by this policy.

Who Should Know This Policy

It is the responsibility of all University personnel to review and understand this policy.

Access Rights of Students

a) Procedure.

A student may inspect and review his or her education records by submitting a written request to the Student Service Center of the Office of the University Registrar that identifies the record(s) the student wishes to inspect and review, or by emailing: [email protected] from his or her Columbia email account. The University is required to grant the request within 45 days. The Registrar will forward copies of the student's request to the appropriate offices holding the requested files. These offices may contact the student and invite  him or her to inspect and review the records or inspection and review will be facilitated by the Registrar. Students may also discuss with the Registrar the types of records available for inspection and review. Note that a request to inspect and review "all records" is not normally sufficient to identify records for inspection and review.

(b) Confidential Letters of Recommendation.

In general, a student may have access to confidential letters and statements of recommendation that are part of the student's education records. This right, however, does not apply to such letters and statements placed in the student's education records prior to January 1, 1975, if such letters and statements are not used for purposes other than those for which they were specifically intended.

A student may, by signing a written waiver, relinquish his or her right to inspect confidential recommendations placed in the student's education records on or after January 1, 1975, respecting (1) admission to any educational institution; (2) an application for employment; or (3) the receipt of an honor or honorary recognition.

In no case will any student be required by the University to waive his or her rights to access of confidential recommendations. A student may find it appropriate to do so for a number of reasons. For example, the student may feel that his or her professors will write more candid and helpful letters of recommendation if the letters are not available to the student. A number of schools and departments have waiver forms available. A school or department desiring to formulate a waiver form should consult the General Counsel of the University.

(c) Copying.

A student will ordinarily not be provided with copies of any part of his or her record other than the  transcript, unless the inability to obtain copies would effectively prevent the student from exercising his or her right to inspect and review the education record. In cases where copies will be provided, the department or office of the University maintaining the record in question may impose a charge for making such copies at uniform rates. Each department or office will establish and make readily available a schedule of such charges. In general, the charges imposed will not exceed $.10 per page. Provision of the official transcript is included in the Document Fee charged at the start of the first semester of enrollment.

(d) Other Rights.
  1. Generally, educational records of a student will be maintained by the Office of Registrar, the office of the school or department in which the student is enrolled, and the office of the department of the student's major field of study. In addition, the University Health Service maintains records relating to students who have utilized its facilities. If a student has utilized a placement office at the University, such office may also maintain records relating to the student.
  2. A student may request that his records be amended to eliminate any information contained therein that he believes is inaccurate, misleading, or violates his privacy or other rights.
  3. If the University decides to refuse to amend a student's records, he or she is entitled to a hearing to challenge the content of his or her educational records in order to insure that the records are not inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise in violation of his or her privacy or other rights. Normally, an informal hearing will suffice with an officer of the University who has authority to make changes in a student's records. If a student is dissatisfied with the results of such a hearing, the student should be referred to the General Counsel of the University.
  4. If, after a hearing, the University decides that the student's records are not inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise in violation of his or her privacy or other rights, the student has the right to place in his or her records a statement commenting upon the information and/or setting forth any reasons for disagreeing with the decision of the University.

Access by or Release to Others

a) General.

The University will not generally permit access to, or release of, educational records or personally identifiable information contained therein to any party without the written consent of the student. The University may, however, as provided in the Act, release such data to certain persons including:

  1. Officials of the University who have a legitimate educational interest (including persons with whom the University has contracted) in obtaining access to the records. Such access will be granted if the official needs to review an educational record in order to fulfill his or her professional responsibility. However, it is within the University’s discretion to determine what is a legitimate educational interest and determine whether student privacy interests outweigh such interest.
  2. Persons who require access in connection with the student's application for, or receipt of, financial aid.
  3. Parents of a student, provided the student is a "dependent" of the parents for federal income tax purposes. In general, the University does not make education records available to a student's parents, although it is the policy of some schools within the University to advise such parents of the student's grades. Where the University believes that it is in a dependent student's interest, information from the student's educational records may be released to the parents of such a dependent student.
  4. The University may release such information in compliance with a judicial order or pursuant to any lawfully issued subpoena. As a general policy, before any information is so released the University will first notify the student at the student's most recent address as shown in the records maintained by the Office of the Registrar. However, in compliance with the Act, some judicial orders and subpoenas issued for law enforcement purposes specify that the University cannot disclose to any person the existence or contents of the order or subpoena or the information furnished in compliance with it.
  5. In connection with an emergency, the University may release information from educational records to appropriate persons if the knowledge of such information is necessary to protect the health or safety of a student or other persons.
(b) Release with the Student's Consent.

Upon written consent or request by a student, the University will release information from the student's educational records to third parties. The student should make a request for such release to the department or office having custody of the record involved. The University may impose a charge for copying a student's records in connection with such release.

(c) Transfer of Information to Third Parties.

It shall be a condition of the release by the University of any personal information on a student to a third party that the party to which the information is released will not permit any other party to have access to such information without the written consent of the student. An institution to which such information is released may permit its officers, employees, and agents to use such information but only for the purposes for which the disclosure was made. These restrictions do not apply to certain subpoenas and court orders.

(d) Directory Information.

The University may release "directory information" with respect to a student without the student's consent. The University is required to give notice of the categories of information that it will treat as "directory information." Accordingly, the University hereby gives notice that it has designated the following categories of information as directory information with respect to each student: name, UNI, local and permanent address, electronic mail address, telephone listing; date and place of birth; photographic, video, or electronic images; major field of study; participation in officially recognized activities and sports; weight and height of members in athletic teams; dates of attendance at Columbia and school, department, or institute attended; degrees conferred, awards received, and their dates; and other educational institutions attended.

A student in attendance at the University who does not want to have directory information relating to himself or herself released should inquire at the Office of the Registrar as to the procedures to be followed. It is important to note that such requests must be made within the first 90 days of any term.

(a) Copies of the preceding Guidelines and Statement of Policy are available on the Columbia website at http://www.essential-policies.columbia.edu/. You may view the Federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act on the U.S. Department of Education website at www.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/ferpa/index.html.

(b) Each office of the University that maintains educational records should keep with each student's file a permanent record of all parties who have requested access to the student's records, other than custodians of such files, University officials normally dealing with such files in performance of their duties, University officials who have been determined to have a legitimate educational interest in obtaining access to the records, parents of a "dependent" student, parties who have received "directory information," parties who have received records or information pursuant to the student's written consent, and the recipient of records or information pursuant to certain subpoenas and court orders. Such records of access should indicate specifically the legitimate interest that each such party had in obtaining access to the student's records and whether or not the request was granted. A student may inspect such records relating to his education records.

(c) Questions about the interpretation of the Guidelines should be referred to the University's General Counsel.

(d) Complaints regarding violations of a student's rights under the Act may be filed with:

Family Policy Compliance Office
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, S.W.
Washington, DC 20202-5920

Telephone: 202-260-3887
Fax: 202-260-9001