Administrative Policies

AD11 University Policy on Confidentiality of Student Records

Policy Status: 

Active

Policy Steward: 

Vice President for Administration

Contents:

PREAMBLE:

The Pennsylvania State University collects and retains data and information about students for designated periods of time for the express purpose of facilitating the student's educational development. The University recognizes the privacy rights of individuals in exerting control over what information about themselves may be disclosed and, at the same time, attempts to balance that right with the institution's need for information relevant to the fulfillment of its educational missions. The University further recognizes its obligation to inform the student of his/her rights under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA); to inform the student of the existence and location of records as well as to define the purposes for which such information is obtained; to provide security for such material; to permit student access to, disclosure of, and challenge to this information as herein described; and to discontinue such information when compelling reasons for its retention no longer exist.

STUDENT RECORD POLICY:

The University will disclose information from a student's educational record only with the prior written consent of the student, except that educational records may be disclosed without consent to University officials having a legitimate educational interest in the records and to third parties specifically authorized by FERPA, as referenced under Policies on Disclosure of Student Records.

"University officials" are University employees with general or specific responsibility for promoting the educational objectives of the University or third parties under contract with the University to provide professional, business and similar administrative services related to the University's educational mission. Individuals whose responsibilities place them within this category include teachers; faculty advisers; admissions counselors; academic advisers; counselors; employment placement personnel; deans, department chairpersons, directors, and other administrative officials responsible for some part of the academic enterprise or one of the supporting activities; University Police personnel; health staff; development officers; staff in Alumni Relations; administrative and faculty sponsors of officially recognized clubs, organizations, etc.; members, including students and alumni, of official college (University) committees, staff personnel (including student employees) employed to assist University officials in discharging professional responsibilities; and persons or entities under contract to the University to provide a specific task or service related to the University's educational mission. Access by these officials is restricted where practical, and only to that portion of the student record necessary for the discharge of assigned duties.

"Legitimate educational interests" are defined as interests that are essential to the general process of higher education prescribed by the body of policy adopted by the governing board. Legitimate educational interests would include teaching, research, public service, and such directly supportive activities as academic advising, general counseling, therapeutic counseling, discipline, vocational counseling and job placement, financial assistance and advisement, medical services, safety, raising endowment in support of student scholarships and academic programs, and academic assistance activities. In addition, the University officially recognizes appropriate co-curricular activities that are generally supportive of overall goals of the institution and contribute generally to the well-being of the entire student body and specifically to many individuals who participate in these activities. These activities include varsity and intramural sports, social fraternities, specific interest clubs, and student government.

Records originating at another institution will be subject to these policies.

STUDENT EDUCATIONAL RECORDS:

Student educational records are defined as records, files, documents, data and other materials that contain information directly related to a student and are maintained by The Pennsylvania State University or by a person acting for the University pursuant to University, college, campus, or departmental policy.

Student educational records do not include records of instructional, supervisory, and administrative personnel and ancillary educational personnel that are in the sole possession of the maker and that are not accessible or revealed to any other person except a substitute.

Other exclusions include:

  • Notes of a professor/staff member concerning a student and intended for the professor's/staff member's own use are not subject to inspection, disclosure, and challenge.
  • Records created and maintained by the Police Services Records Division for law enforcement purposes.
  • Records relating to an individual who is employed by an educational agency or institution not as a result of his/her status as a student that:
    1. Are made and maintained in the normal course of business;
    2. Relate exclusively to the individual in that individual's capacity as an employee; and
    3. Are not available for use for any other purpose.
    4. However, employment records relating to University students who are employed as a result of their status as students (e.g. federally-funded work study, graduate assistants, resident assistants) are considered educational records.
  • Records on students that are made or maintained by a physician, psychiatrist, psychologist, or other recognized professional or paraprofessional acting or assisting in that capacity are not subject to the provisions of access, disclosure, and challenge. Such records, however, must be made, maintained, or used only in connection with the provision of treatment to the student and are not available to anyone other than the persons providing such treatment or a substitute. Such records may be personally reviewed by a physician or other appropriate professional of the student's choice.
  • Application records of students not admitted to the University; however, once a student has enrolled in an academic offering of the University, application information becomes a part of the student's educational records.
  • Alumni records.

DEFINITION OF STUDENT:

For the purpose of this policy, a student is defined as an individual currently or previously enrolled in any academic offering of the University. For newly admitted students, this policy becomes effective on the first day of classes for those students who have scheduled at least one course. A student who accepted an admission offer but did not schedule at least one course, or a newly admitted student who canceled his/her registration either before or after the semester begins, is not covered by this policy.

This definition does not include prospective students (applicants to any academic program of the University).

PUBLIC INFORMATION REGARDING STUDENTS:

The following is a list of directory items that may be made available to the public regarding students of the University without their prior consent and is considered part of the public record of their attendance:

  1. Name
  2. Address (local, permanent, and electronic mail)
  3. Telephone number
  4. Class level (semester classification or level: freshman, sophomore, junior, senior, etc)
  5. Major
  6. Student activities including athletics
  7. Weight/height (athletic teams)
  8. Dates of attendance
  9. Enrollment status (full-time, part-time, or not enrolled)
  10. Date of graduation
  11. Degrees and awards received and where received
  12. Most recent educational institution attended

The student is entitled to request that these directory items not be made publicly available. Such a request must be made in writing to the University Registrar. Requests filed within ten days after the first day of class for fall semester will normally block directory items from appearing in printed directories and other annual publications and will block the release of directory items in response to inquiries made to the University by the public after the receipt of the request. Requests filed after the first ten days of the fall semester will block only the release of directory items in response to inquiries made to the University by the public after the receipt of the request. The block will remain in effect until it is rescinded by the student in written instructions filed with the University Registrar.

UNIVERSITY OFFICERS RESPONSIBLE FOR STUDENT RECORDS:

The following University officers are designated as responsible for student records within their respective areas:

  • Budget Officer of the University,
  • Chancellors,
  • Corporate Controller,
  • Deans,
  • Vice Provosts,
  • Vice President and Dean,
  • Vice Presidents,
  • Senior Vice Presidents and Deans,
  • Senior Vice Presidents.

Each of these officers is responsible to make available a listing of student records within his/her area of responsibility indicating the purpose, storage, security, and disposition of each student record.

POLICIES ON DISCLOSURE OF STUDENT RECORDS:

The following guidelines will be utilized with respect to the disclosure of student records:

NOTE: In no case will letters of recommendation and other information obtained or prepared before January 1, 1975, that were written on the assumption or expressed promise of confidentiality to the authors, be available for inspection, disclosure, or challenge. Letters of recommendation and other information written and/or compiled after January 1, 1975, are available to students in accordance with guidelines that follow.

A. DISCLOSURE TO THE STUDENT:

The student has the right to inspect and review his/her educational records, and may do so by making an oral or written request to the University official responsible for the specific record desired. The official must respond within forty-five days of the request by sending the student a copy of the requested record, or by arranging an appointment for the student to review it. The student has the right to an explanation of any information contained in the record.

Educational records of the student, or the contents thereof, will not be released to the student, his/her parents, or any third party so long as a financial indebtedness or serious academic and/or disciplinary matter involving the student remains unresolved. This limitation does not preclude the student from having personal access to the records - merely from obtaining the release of the information. The student may not have access to the confidential financial statement of parents or any information contained in such statements.

A student may waive his/her right to access to confidential letters of recommendation that he/she seeks for admission to any educational agency or institution; for employment; or for application for an honor or honorary recognition. The student must be notified on request of all such individuals furnishing recommendations, and the letters must be solely for the stated purpose for which the student was notified and for which he/she waived his/her right of access. Such waivers may not be required as a condition for admission to, receipt of financial aid from, or receipt of any other services or benefits from such agency or institution.

Where any such records, files, or data contain information relative to a third person, the student is entitled to be informed of only the portion of that record as pertains to himself/herself. Each record-keeping unit of the University will establish procedures for accommodating requests for access to student records. An administrative charge not exceeding the actual cost to the University of providing access may be initiated in certain areas for access to record information.

The student is entitled to copy privilege as regards his/her records, files, and data at a reasonable administrative cost.

B. DISCLOSURE OF INFORMATION TO THIRD PARTIES:

Disclosure of information contained in student records, files, and data is normally controlled by the student.

Typically, such disclosures will be made to someone other than a University official having a legitimate educational interest in the records only on the condition that prior written consent is obtained from the student. The third party is to be reminded that he/she should not permit additional access to the information by an additional person without further written consent of the student prior to such an additional transfer of information.

When information on a student must be shared outside the University, all persons, agencies, or organizations desiring access to the records of a student shall be required to sign a written form to be kept permanently with the file of the student indicating specifically the legitimate educational or other interest in seeking this information. This form will be available solely to the student and to the University officer responsible for the record as a means of auditing the operation of the record system. Exceptions to this are C. through I., below.

Disclosure of information to third parties without prior written consent of the student is permitted in cases where the third party is under contract to the University and is under the University's direct control for the purposes of providing institutional services or performing institutional functions. The contractual arrangement between the third party and the University must require the third party to:

  • Protect the information at the same level as required of the University by law, existing contract, or institutional policy.
  • Use the information for only the purposes for which Penn State grants access to the information.
  • Not share the information with any other entity.
  • Destroy the information within 60 days of the conclusion of any contractual arrangement with the University and retain no copies of the information.
  • Provide adequate administrative, electronic, and physical safeguards to assure the confidentiality, integrity, and accessibility of the information at a level specified in the contract between the University and the third party.

Disclosure of information to third parties conducting research studies for or on behalf of the University is permitted, provided the University agrees with the purpose of the study and executes a written agreement with the research organization. The written agreement must reflect the five bullet points outlined above, and must set forth the purpose, scope and duration of the study, among other provisions. Whenever possible, it is preferable to provide only de-identified data to the research organization.

C. DISCLOSURE TO OTHER EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS:

Disclosure of appropriate academic records may be made to officials of other educational institutions to which the student has applied and where he/she intends to enroll or is currently enrolled. In addition, Penn State may return records to the apparent creator of those records in order to verify authenticity.

D. DISCLOSURE PURSUANT TO JUDICIAL ORDER:

Information concerning a student shall be released if properly subpoenaed pursuant to a judicial, legislative, or administrative proceeding. Effort will be made to give advance notice to the student of such an order before compliance by the University.

E. DISCLOSURE PURSUANT TO REQUESTS FOR FINANCIAL AID:

Necessary academic and/or financial student records may be disclosed without the student's prior consent in connection with the student's application for, or receipt of, financial aid.

F. DISCLOSURE TO FEDERAL AND STATE AUTHORITIES:

This policy shall not preclude access to student records by authorized federal and state officials in connection with the audit and evaluation of federally supported education programs, or in connection with the enforcement of federal and state legal requirements that relate to such programs. Except when collection of personally identifiable data is specifically authorized by federal and state law, any data collected and reported with respect to an individual student shall not include information (including Social Security number) that would permit the personal identification of such student.

G. DISCLOSURE UNDER EMERGENCY CONDITIONS:

On an emergency basis, information about a student that is, in the University's judgment, necessary to protect the health or safety of the student or others may be released by a designated officer of the University to any person whose knowledge of the situation is necessary to protect the health or safety of the student or others.

H. DISCLOSURE TO EDUCATIONAL AGENCIES OR INSTITUTIONS:

Information that will not permit the individual identification of students may be released to organizations of educational agencies or institutions for the purpose of developing, validating, and administering predictive tests and measurements. Similarly, information may be released to accrediting organizations in order to carry out their accrediting functions.

I. DISCLOSURES CONCERNING SEX OFFENDERS:

Information concerning registered sex offenders may be released in a manner consistent with federal and state regulations.

CHALLENGE OF RECORD ENTRY:

The student is entitled to challenge and/or add to the factual basis of any record entry contained in records, files, and/or data. The purpose of this challenge is to ensure that such entries are not inaccurate or misleading, or in violation of his/her privacy or other rights as a student, and to provide an opportunity for the correction or deletion of any such inaccuracies, misleading or otherwise inappropriate data contained therein. The substantive judgment of a faculty member about a student's work, expressed in grades and/or evaluations, is not within the purview of this right to challenge.

The University will provide, on request by the student, an opportunity for a hearing to challenge the content of the student's record(s). The request should be submitted to the appropriate University officer (see "University Officers Responsible for Student Records," above) in whose area of responsibility the questioned material is kept. The University officer is authorized to rectify the entry and so notify the student in writing. The designated officer will provide the student with an opportunity to place in the records a statement commenting upon the challenged information in the educational records that will be kept so long as the contents are contested. The contents of the student's challenge will remain a part of the student's records regardless of the outcome of any challenge.

If a records entry question has not been satisfactorily resolved by this informal procedure, the student is entitled to a hearing on the matter. The hearing must be held within a reasonable time after the request, and the student notified as to the time, date, and place of the hearing in a reasonably advanced time of the hearing as to make his/her presence practical.

A hearing officer will be designated by the Vice Provost and Dean for Undergraduate Education and the student will be afforded a full and fair opportunity to present evidence relevant to the issues of record entry validity. The student may be assisted or represented by an adviser of his/her choice including, at his/her own expense, an attorney. The student will be furnished, within a reasonable time following the hearing, a written decision from the designated hearing officer. In addition, the student is entitled to receive in writing a summary of the evidence and the reasons for the decision.

An adverse decision may be appealed in writing by the student to the Executive Vice President and Provost of the University, and finally, to the President of the University.

The student has the right to file a complaint with the Department of Education concerning alleged failures of the University to comply with the requirements of FERPA.

CROSS REFERENCES:

Other Policies should also be referenced, especially the following:

AD20 - Computer and Network Security

AD43 - Statement on HIV/AIDS

ADG06 - Appropriate Use of Student Data

HR56 - Answering Personnel Inquiries

SY03 - Emergencies Involving Students

Effective Date: February 24, 2011
Date Approved: February 21, 2011
Date Published: February 24, 2011 (Editorial Change, June 22, 2016)

Most Recent Changes:

  • June 22, 2016 - Editorial changes made in the STUDENT RECORD POLICY and POLICY ON DISCLOSURE OF STUDENT RECORDS sections, updating the link to the Student Consent for Release of Information to Third Parties Form, needed when third parties request student information.

Revision History (and effective dates):

  • April 1, 2013 - Editorial change made in the STUDENT RECORD POLICY section, clarifying the types of staff personnel who assist University officials to include student employees.
  • June 25, 2012 - In the POLICIES ON DISCLOSURE OF STUDENT RECORDS, Part B. Disclosure of Informations to Third Parties, revised the 4th bullet, removing the words "or return" from the previous verbiage which said "Destroy or return the information within 60 days of the conclusion of any contractual arrangement with the University and retain no copies of the information. " Information is NOT returned, just destroyed.
  • February 24, 2012 - In the POLICIES ON DISCLOSURE OF STUDENT RECORDS, B. Disclosure of Informations to Third Parties, revised the Template - Written Agreement With External Research Organizations that is linked in the policy (under "written agreement") to reflect changes in FERPA requirements that now require that records be destroyed when the contract or research study ended, and to provide Penn State with a certificate confirming the date of destruction of the data (in the past there was an option to "return" such records).
  • February 24, 2011 - Minor changes to the PUBLIC INFORMATION REGARDING STUDENTS section (removed 'date and place of birth' and 'name and address of parents, guardian, spouse' as information that may be made available without prior consent; added 'class level'). Revised the POLICIES ON DISCLOSURE OF STUDENT RECORDS section, removing Disclosure to Parents of Dependent Students verbiage.
  • November 4, 2009 - Minor changes made in these sections: Student Record Policy, Student Educational Records, Definition of Student, Public Information Regarding Students, and University Officers Responsible for Student Records. Significant additions made to Disclosure of Information to Third Parties and Disclosure Under Emergency Conditions sections. Addition of a new section entitled Disclosures Concerning Sex Offenders. Reference added, with appropriate link in "Cross References" for new Administrative Guideline ADG06, Appropriate Use of Student Data.
  • January 17, 2008 - Editorial changes in "Student Record Policy" and "Disclosure of Information to Third Parties" sections; links have been added that direct users to the form/instructions used to collect written consent from a student to release a portion(s) of their education record to third parties.
  • November 16, 2007 - Updated "Student Record Policy" section, adding the terms 'University Police personnel' and 'health staff' to the list of appropriate areas who serve as the University's "school officials" with "legitimate educational interest" in accordance with FERPA regulations.
  • January 31, 2007 - Editorial changes to "University Officers Responsible for Student Records" section. Replaced Campus Executive Officers with Chancellors, and Vice President for Outreach and Cooperative Extention with Vice President for Outreach.
  • June 14, 2006 - Revision History added.
  • January 27, 1998 - Position Title Updates.
  • August 11, 1995 - Multiple changes throughout Policy.
  • November 3, 1994 - Changes to "Preamble" and "Student Record Policy" sections. Addition of "Cross References" section.
  • November 10, 1989 - Revised section titled "University Offers Responsible for Student Records."
  • February 25, 1988 - Major Revisions.
  • December 14, 1984 - Department Title Changes.
  • November 9, 1983 - Position Title Changes.
  • December 9, 1981 - Revisions throughout entire policy, per revisions in 1981-82 Student Handbook.
  • January 3, 1975 - Release of Interim Policy, per directive of President Oswald.