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You Can't Always Get What You Want

(Unless You Know These Rules)

Would you like Minnesota State Community and Technical College to provide you with information such as your student's academic progress or tuition balance? In most cases, M State will need your student's written consent for you to have access to this information. Your student can authorize access by filling out a Release of Information Form.

We hope the following will help you understand M State's duty to protect student privacy and encourage you to act now to ensure access to student information when you need it - or to at least avoid the frustration of being caught unaware of the rules.

Why do colleges and universities say they need to protect the privacy of student records?
It's not just a school policy - it's the law. Minnesota state colleges and universities are subject to the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act (MGDPA), which contain detailed rules about student record privacy. A key provision of those laws is that college and university students have the right to control disclosure of private education records about themselves to third parties, including parents, spouses or other family members. These rights apply to all college or university students, even if they are minors. (Records of a PSEO student are routinely shared with the high school where the student is also in attendance.)

What is an education record?
Education records that are subject to these privacy laws encompass a wide scope of information, including grades, housing information, class enrollment, attendance information, counseling or medical records from campus health centers, disciplinary records and tuition balance information. Most education records are classified as private.

Schools may release private education records to third parties - including family members - only if the law permits or if the student has a signed a valid authorization.

Of course, students themselves may release their own information as they wish.

When may school officials release private education records to family members?
It depends on a number of factors; some situations do not require the student's consent. For example, where the health or safety of the student or others is in danger, school officials may release information in order to deal with that emergency. Those are rare situations.

In most circumstances, family members will need to show a signed, dated authorization for release of information. A form that has been developed for this use is located in the student services office at each M State campus and is available online through the Release of Information Form link above. However, any document that includes the following would be valid: who is authorized to release the information; to whom the information may be released; what information may be released; the purpose for which the information may be used; the student's signature; and a date. A simple email from the student is not sufficient authorization.

Send the completed form to Dean of Student Services at the campus your student is attending.

An original release form is not required. School officials may honor a copy of a valid release, including a fax. An authorization could permit disclosure of information by phone or email so long as an otherwise valid release is on file. A form could also authorize on-going disclosures, such as grades each semester.

We encourage you and your student to discuss signing a release before issues of access arise. Releases may be as broad or a limited as desired. You may want to remind your student of the potential negative consequences of not permitting you to have access to information such as tuition balance!

Doesn't the fact that I pay my child's tuition give me automatic access to information?
No. Schools are permitted to have a policy whereby the parents of a financially dependent child may have access to private education records without the child's consent, but M State does not have such a policy. You generally will need the student's written consent for private information, even if you financially support the student in whole or in part.

Can't a college or university require students to sign a release to parents?
No. Any release of privacy rights requested by the school must be voluntary.

Is there any information that is public about students at a college or university? Each college or university defines certain data about its students as "directory information." This information was selected because M State officials determined that disclosing this information would not generally be considered an invasion of privacy.

M State's definition of directory information can be found in the Student Handbook or on this website. It is subject to change. Directory information is available to anyone, and no student consent is required to release it. However, students have the right to suppress their directory data so that it is treated as private. For those students, school officials may not release their directory information without written consent or other legal authority.

Where can I go for further information on the privacy of student records? Contact the M State Dean of Student Services at the campus your student is attending.

Last modified: October 17th, 2012 at 11:30am