FERPA is short for the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a federal law enacted in 1974. FERPA protects the privacy of student education records. All educational institutions that receive federal funding, including Cornell, must comply with FERPA. FERPA begins for a Cornell student on the first day of classes/semester or attendance, whichever comes first, and the student continues to be protected by FERPA for their lifetime.
FERPA gives students four basic rights with respect to their education record:
- The right to inspect and review their education record.
- The right to some control over the disclosure of their education record.
- The right to request the amendment of their education record where appropriate.
- The right to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education concerning alleged failures by the University to comply with the requirements of FERPA.
Education records are defined as paper or electronic records, files, documents, email messages, and other materials that contain information directly related to a student and are maintained by Cornell University or by a person acting for the University. Education records include grades, class lists, course schedules, disciplinary records (including Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards letters), financial records, disability accommodation records, and payroll records for students who are employed as a direct result of their status as students (e.g. work study or fellowships).
The following are excluded from the definition of education records:
- Individual records and observations made by faculty and staff for their own use as reference or memory aids and are not shared with others.
- University law enforcement records.
- Medical and mental health records (these are covered under HIPPA).
- Alumni records.
- Employment records (except related to employment dependent upon student status).
- Application materials unless they are retained after a student matriculates.
- Records not maintained by the institution (i.e. peer grading).
Education records may be disclosed to school officials who have legitimate educational interests related to the information, with school officials at another institution where a student seeks or intends to enroll, in response to subpoenas, with a third party with whom the University has a contract, or in a health or safety emergency where the student's safety is at risk. The University may not disclose education records or personally identifiable information about students contained in education records without written permission of the student unless such action is covered by exceptions contained in FERPA.
Questions about disclosing information in one of the above situations should be directed to the Office of University Counsel at 607-255-5124.
FERPA permits each institution to define a class of information as directory information. FERPA permits disclosure of directory information without the student's consent. Directory information is defined and outlined by the University in the Student Record Privacy Statement and includes:
- local and cell phone numbers
- email address
- major field of study and college attended
- academic level
- dates of attendance
- enrollment status
- university assistantship status (e.g. teaching assistantship, graduate research assistantship, research assistantship, graduate assistantship)
- participation in officially recognized activities and sports
- weight and height (of members of athletic teams)
- any degrees earned and awards received
- date of birth and local address (for the sole purpose of federal census data responses)
Address information is not considered directory information.
Students may choose to prevent the release of their directory information. FERPA holds can be added or removed by adjusting the privacy settings in Student Center. Implications of invoking this restriction include the following:
- Student's name will not be released to honor societies and award programs even if honors criteria are met.
- Name and email will not appear in the electronic directory.
- Student's name will not appear in the commencement program.
- Name will not be shared with parties attempting to verify enrollment or degree.
When a student has chosen to block the release of their directory information, Cornell may disclose the information under applicable exceptions or with the student's case-by-case consent.
When a student reaches the age of 18 or begins to attend a post-secondary institution, regardless of age, all FERPA rights belong to the student. This can be a significant shift for families as students begin college. Before a student begins attending Cornell University, families are encouraged to discuss how they will maintain an open dialogue about student experiences, enrollment, and grades.
Disclosure of FERPA protected information to parents or guardians of students is permitted without consent in the following instances:
- In the best interest of students (dependent students only).
- Released by the student (e.g. student participating in a phone conversation with their advisor and parent).
- Used by Financial Aid to determine eligibility for or amount of aid.