FERPA Explained

haveuheard ferpa

Why Can’t I See My Child’s Grades?

by Priscilla  Beth Baker

What is FERPA? One thing we parents don’t like losing is control, and when our kids go to college, we lose a LOT of it. Once they leave the nest, we don’t often know where they are or who they are with, if they are going to class, if they are up all night, if they are eating or exercising. But what we do know is that we can’t see their grades unless they fill out FERPA-compliant paperwork allowing us to do so, and even then, most universities have separate teaching platforms for classes versus student records so you aren’t really seeing much beyond their overall transcript. Gone are the days of the parent portal where you could obsessively check and badger your kid about those zeros and a borderline grade leading into an exam.

You might not even realize that FERPA was in place well before your child went away to college. The acronym stands for the “Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act” which was a federal law put in place to protect the privacy of student education records giving parents of minors the right to three primary things: (1) to inspect and review their child’s academic record; (2) to control disclosure and confidentiality of that record; and (3) to request changes in the record if there are errors. But guess what happens when your children turn 18? Those rights transfer to them. And they need to fill out specific paperwork to include you as well as, at most Universities, grant you access via 2-factor authentication into their student portals. This can be met with much resistance. “I thought you trusted me…I’m on my own now…When are you going to treat me like an adult?” But trust is a funny thing when you are talking about upwards of 25K per year in college expenses.

So while you are trying to establish a sense of trust and loosening the reins when your child enters college, you are also put in the awkward position of demanding access to information many of us feel is our right to see, especially if we are the ones footing the entire bill. Parent attitudes on this topic range anywhere from, “You’re an adult and I trust that you are doing your best,” to “I’m not paying your tuition unless you log in right now in front of my face and show me your grades.” As a side note – I have heard multiple tales of students sending wildly improved and doctored “screenshots” of their grades to their parents when asked to see the evidence. It’s like social media – as much as we’d like to believe our kids only have one Instagram account that they have given us full access to because we are so close, many of them have alternate accounts that we are not privy to. But we aren’t paying for Instagram…

Perhaps the best line to tow in conveying your need to see their progress is one of honesty and moderation. Explaining to your child that their education is a privilege and not a right. That seeing evidence of their commitment to that privilege is not an issue of trust but one of mutual respect and gratitude. That you are using that money as an act of faith because you wholeheartedly believe in them and their future. Hopefully, that will resonate.

Should you need to access the waiver for your student’s university, just click on the university.

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Priscilla Beth Baker currently works as an academic advisor at a large university and has two college-aged sons of her own. She is also a former high school English teacher and educational writer for Prestwick House Publishing.
2020-08-05T13:34:13-04:000 Comments

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