Family Education Rights Privacy Act

What is FERPA?

FERPA stands for the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.  It is also referred to as the Buckley Amendment.  FERPA is a federal law (20 U.S.C. section 1232g) that was passed by Congress in 1974 to protect the privacy of student education records.  It also provides rights to access or amend those records.

What institutions must comply with FERPA?

FERPA applies to any public or private institution of higher education that receives funds under programs administered by the Department of Education, including but not limited to federal grants, Pell grants, and guaranteed student loans.  In other words, it applies to South Carolina State University as well as most other colleges and universities.  FERPA also applies to elementary and secondary schools. The complete regulations and full definitions of terminology can be found at:

Who is protected under FERPA?

Any student who is or has been in attendance at South Carolina State University has FERPA rights.  These rights are exercised by the student (even students under 18) in postsecondary institutions whereas in elementary and secondary schools the rights are exercised by the parent.

What are the student's rights?

Students primarily have the following rights under FERPA:

  • The right to inspect and review their education records within a maximum of 45 days after the request is made.  This right includes (1) the right to an explanation and interpretation of the record, (2) the right to a copy of the education records when failure to provide a copy of the record would effectively prevent the student from inspecting and reviewing the record.
  • The right to request the amendment of education records if the student believes the records are inaccurate or misleading.
  • The right to prevent the unauthorized disclosure of their student records.
  • The right to complain to the Department of Education about a violation of FERPA.

Students do not have the right to inspect and review the following:

  • Financial information submitted by parents.
  • Confidential letters and recommendations placed in their files prior to January 1, 1975.
  • Confidential letters and recommendations placed in their files after January 1, 1975 to which the student has waived his or her right to inspect and review and that are related to the student’s admission, application for employment or job placement, or receipt of honors.
  • Education records containing information about more than one student.
What is an Education Record?

An education record is any record that is directly related to a student and is kept by the University.  This definition is extremely broad and includes information recorded in any way such as electronic records and emails.  Therefore unless one of the exceptions noted below applies, it is best to assume that if it relates to a student, it is an education record.

What is Not an Education Record?

There are several exceptions to the definition of an education record under FERPA.  Some key exceptions are:

  • Sole possession records – faculty records that are not disclosed to other parties except someone who must serve as a substitute for a given course.  Personal grade books or draft exams are examples of these records.  However, even though a student might not have right to access the personal grade book, due process might require access to the student’s own grades under some circumstances such as a grade grievance.
  • Records of a law enforcement unit of the educational agency or institution that were created by that law enforcement unit for the purpose of law enforcement.
  • Employment records unless employment is a result of a student’s status, such as work study.
  • Medical treatment records may not be considered an education record but they are kept confidential under other law and professional ethics requirements.
When is written consent not necessary?

Set forth below are situations when the student’s written consent is not necessary prior to disclosing student record information:

  • Disclosures to other school officials with a legitimate educational interest in the information or document (see below for a further explanation of this exception).
  • Disclosures to authorized representatives for audit of Federal or State supported programs.
  • Disclosures to Veteran’s Administration officials.
  • Disclosures to other schools where the student intends to enroll on the condition that the issuing institution makes a reasonable attempt to inform the student of the disclosure.
  • In an emergency situation.  An emergency exists when the information being provided is necessary to protect the health or safety of the student or other individuals.  Disclosures to persons or organizations providing financial aid to students.
  • Disclosures to accrediting organizations carrying out accrediting functions.
  • Disclosures made in compliance with a judicial order or a lawfully issued subpoena if the institution makes a reasonable attempt to notify the student in advance of compliance.
  • The results of an institutional disciplinary proceeding may be disclosed to an alleged victim of any crime of violence.
  • Disclosure to an outside contractor if that contractor is a “party acting for” the institution and is performing a service which the institution would otherwise have to perform for itself (such as use of the National Student Loan Clearinghouse for loan verification).
What is a legitimate educational interest?

A University may disclose education records to school officials with a legitimate educational interest in the information or document without the student’s consent.  South Carolina State University defines a school official as “a person employed by the University; a person or company with whom the University has contracted (such as an attorney, auditor, or collection agent); a person serving on the board of trustees; or a student serving on an official committee such as a disciplinary or grievance committee, or assisting another University official in performing his or her tasks.”  A school official has a legitimate educational interest if “the official needs to review an education record in order to fulfill his/her professional responsibilities.”

What is ``directory information``?

Under FERPA, a higher education institution may define some education record information as “directory information” and not confidential under FERPA. South Carolina State University has defined directory information as follows:



  • Student’s name
  • Participation in officially recognized activities and sports
  • Address
  • Telephone listing
  • Weight and height of members of athletic teams
  • Electronic mail address
  • Photograph
  • Degrees, honors, and awards received
  • Date and place of birth
  • Major field of study
  • Dates of attendance
  • Grade level
  • The most recent educational agency or institution attended


IMPORTANT NOTE – Although directory information can be disclosed under FERPA, the South Carolina Family Privacy Protection Act (FPPA) prevents public institutions from disclosing personal information to third parties who intend to use it for commercial solicitation.  If you receive requests from third parties for names, addresses, phone numbers or other directory information related to students in your department, be sure to contact the General Counsel’s office or the Office of Institutional Research before disclosing the information as violation of the FPPA is a misdemeanor.

Can a student refuse to allow directory information to be released?

Yes, a student may opt out or preclude directory information from being disclosed.  In order to do so, the student must give written notification to the Registrar’s Office, Moss Hall 2nd Floor by the last day to register for the enrollment period concerned as published in the South Carolina State University calendar.

How do I find out if a student does not want directory information released?

In order to get that information you must check the SIS (Student Information System) by entering the student’s ID.  If the student does not want directory information or any other type of information released, an Information Release Restrictions screen will appear notifying you of what cannot be released on that student.  If you have questions about this process, please contact the Registrar’s Office (803) 536-7185.

Should faculty be careful about how grades are posted?

Yes.  The public posting of grades by student name, South Carolina State University identification number or social security number without the student’s written permission is a violation of FERPA. Do not leave a stack of graded exams in a place where other students or individuals can access them.  Also, do not disclose one student’s grade to other students.

What should a faculty member do before writing a letter of reference for a student?

FERPA prohibits the disclosure of non-directory information about a student (such as performance in class, grades, aptitude, abilities and background) whether it is conveyed in writing, in person or by telephone to third parties.

Often references are provided by faculty members upon the informal request of a student.  Even though references are usually positive, the better practice is to request a written consent that meets the FERPA requirements before providing the reference information to third parties.

Release of Information to Parents

The Family Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) of 1974 as amended was designed to guarantee the privacy of student’s educational records. As the custodian of these records, South Carolina State University subscribes to the intent of the law, and procedures have been established to comply with it.

One of the stipulations set forth in the Act deals with the release of student information to their parents. While a student is in secondary school, the parents of that student generally have access to information about their child. When a child reaches the age of 18 or begins attending a college or university, the rights previously accorded to the parents pass to the student.

Records may be released to parents only if one of the following conditions has been met:

  1. Through the written consent of the student, a release form may be obtained from the Office of the Registrar/Veterans Affairs that requires the signature of the student and parent and must be filled out in the Office of the Registrar/Veterans Affairs. This form remains on file and in effect for one full year from the date of receipt . An update to this release form must be made in person by the student and parent. Written notification to rescind this release must be signed by the student and notarized.
  2. In compliance with a subpoena, and
  3. By submission of evidence that the parent(s) declared the student as a dependent on their most recent federal income tax form and at the discretion of the institution.

The University may release information to the parents of a student, without the student’s written consent, only if the student is a dependent as defined in Section 152 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954, and the Tax Reform Act of 1976.

Parents must submit a copy of their latest signed federal income tax statement which shows that the requesting parent has indeed claimed the child/student as a dependent on the tax return. In the alternative, and where the parents are divorced, we will accept a copy of a court decree (or a Settlement Agreement incorporated into the court decree) which gives one party or the other the right to claim a certain child as a dependent for income tax purposes.

The Act also states that an educational institution shall give full rights under the Act to either parent, unless the institution has been provided evidence that there is a court order, State Statute, or legally binding document governing such matters as divorce, separation or custody, that specifically revokes these rights. [Authority: 20 U. S. C 1232g].

The University will notify the student that their parent(s) have complied with one of the above procedures and that they may have access to the records of their dependent child.

FEPRA Brochure for Parents

Who can I speak to if I have further questions about FERPA?

Please contact the Registrar’s Office at (803) 536-8406 with further questions.