What is personally identifiable information?

Personally identifiable information is the information about a student contained in his/her education records that cannot be disclosed without consideration of the requirements under FERPA. The Family Policy Compliance Office (FPCO) has said that personally identifiable information need not identify a student by name so long as the information is part of a student’s education record and easily traceable to the student. It includes, but is not limited to:

  • Student’s name
  • The name of the student’s parent or other family member
  • The address of the student or student’s family
  • A personal identifier such as the student’s SSN or student ID number
  • A list of personal characteristics that would make the student’s identity easily traceable

Is an individual who has applied for admission to the university protected by FERPA?

Not entirely. An individual does not become a student of the university simply by applying for admission. An applicant only becomes a student entitled to FERPA rights upon enrollment. The law states that a student includes “any individual who is or has been enrolled at an educational agency or institution and regarding whom the agency or institution maintains education records.” For FERPA purposes, it does not matter how the education is delivered. Whether the student is on campus attending classes or taking courses via the web, students have the same FERPA rights.

Applications of individuals who are not attending an educational agency or institution are generally not considered education records because the individuals are not yet “students” at the institution. However, the institution is required to protect information, such as a transcript, that it receives for an applicant from a high school or other postsecondary institution and may not redisclose the information except in accordance with FERPA regulations. Finally, FERPA does permit school officials to disclose any and all education records, including disciplinary records, to another institution at which the student seeks or intends to enroll. In the case of transferring education records, student consent is not required however the student should be notified of the disclosure.

Who qualifies as a “School Official?”

To be considered a “school official”, an agency or institution must be able to show that a non-employee or other outside party is providing an institutional service or function that the agency or institution would otherwise use employees to perform. The institution must also show that the outside party would have a legitimate educational interest in the information disclosed if the service were performed by employees. Finally, the institution must be able to show that the outside party, in providing these services, is doing so under the direct control of the institution with respect to the use and maintenance of information from education records, including compliance with the requirements prohibiting redisclosure of the information to any other party without prior written consent except as authorized under FERPA.

Are there requirements for releasing directory information?

Yes. Institutions may not disclose “directory information” that is linked to non-directory information, such as information on a student’s financial aid status. In addition, if an institution receives a request for directory information on students who have applied for or received financial aid, the institution is prohibited by FERPA from disclosing that information without the student’s prior written consent.

What should a student do if they do not want any information, including directory information, released about them?

Students who do not wish for any information to be released about them should fill out a Directory Restriction form in the Office of the Registrar. It is important to note that this restricts all information on a student. When this restriction is in place, the institution literally cannot release any information about that student. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • the student’s enrollment at the institution
  • the student’s name on the Dean’s or Chancellor’s List publications, or
  • the student’s name in the list of graduates and/or in the graduation program

If the student files a directory restriction form and later wishes for information to be released, they must come back and revoke the restriction before any information, directory or not, can be released or published.