Student records are mostly kept confidential
For some, concerns for security since September 11 lie not only in national defense, but also in security of private records, such as transcripts and telephone and address contact information.
The Office of Student Records at Washington University keeps thousands of files on students, ranging from SAT scores to coursework to directory information, but administrators say there should not be any concern over the information leaving the office without just cause.
Under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), federal law prohibits universities from giving out student records without their consent except in particular circumstances. The student information the university gives to the credit card company MBNA International-just names and addresses-is perfectly legal.
Under the Buckley Amendment, part of FERPA and passed in 1974, students are guaranteed access to their records if they request them. Students can easily view all their records on WebSTAC.
Only certain people and agencies are allowed access to student records consisting of more than basic directory information. Some such cases involve crime, emergencies or court orders and subpoenas.
According to Sue Hosack, director of the office of student records, just one company has access to student and alumni mailing lists. Once a year, the University Alumni Office gives MBNA access to student names and addresses so the company can advertise its WU “vanity card.”
“MBNA is the one exception where the university allows a company to have a list of student and alumni names and addresses once a year for advertising,” said Hosack.
MBNA sends out three advertisement mailings for its vanity credit card each school year. The company does not call students to sell their card, and they are not allowed to distribute the mailing list to any other companies or organizations.
According to Jennifer Haltom of the Alumni and Development Programs office, the university chose to allow MBNA access to the mailing lists after reviewing a number of credit card packages several years ago. They decided MBNA offered the best package. The vanity card sold by the company has a depiction of WU on it.
“Of course we get complaints about the mailings from students and alumni,” Haltom said. “Some people just don’t want to receive credit card information. We just take their names off the mailing list.”
Students can keep MBNA from contacting them by calling Haltom or by blocking their address information from the public on WebSTAC.
Hosack said parents who call and want access to their student’s records are referred to the dean’s office, and someone there handles the request. Because of some extreme cases, such as those students who have restraining orders against their parents, Hosack said administrators take certain considerations when releasing records. Under the Buckley Amendment, students who are listed as “dependents” on their parents’ tax forms can have their parents view their records at anytime.
“Generally parents call in and say they are concerned about their child’s performance,” Hosack said. “The dean’s office tries to involve the student in a discussion with the parents before the records are released.”
Hosack says that the Office of Student Records and Registrar has never had a break in, nor have any student records ever been stolen.
“We code everything, and we have an alarm system for the office and the room where the grade sheets are archived,” said Hosack. “Students should feel very confident that their records are safe. We work very hard to ensure the privacy and the accuracy of the records.”
The Office of the Student Records is responsible for managing student directory information, while the university’s Student Information System database holds application materials, semester coursework, grades, SAT scores, and degrees conferred with the date of conferral.
Except for grade sheets that faculty fill out each semester, which are archived, all records are stored electronically. All records are kept indefinitely.
“We keep everything we have on students on record forever,” said Hosack.
With these records in hand, the Office of Student Records issues transcripts, ID cards, diplomas and official enrollment statistics, among other services. They also verify students’ records to banks, loan agencies, insurance companies and veteran agencies.
Before the 1970s, all records were kept on hard copy; these documents are still maintained and referred to occasionally.
With all that information, security at the office is a high priority.
Contact Catherine at [email protected]
According to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), information about students, besides basic directory information, may only be released under these circumstances:
To school officials with a legitimate
educational interest in such information
In an emergency where such information must be released to protect health and safety
Under court order or subpoena
To the victim of a crime of violence alleged to have been perpetrated by a student
Parents of a dependent student, as defined by the Internal Revenue Code
Companies that have been contracted by the university to manage a university operation (for example, AT&T might be contracted to manage the billing for student long-distance telephone service)
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