FERPA Overview

Key Terms

This is an accordion element with a series of buttons that open and close related content panels.

Directory information

FERPA specifies that directory information is information contained in an education record of a student that would not generally be considered harmful or an invasion of privacy if disclosed. As such, directory information may be released without the student’s written consent under FERPA. In addition, such information may be required to be released under Wisconsin Public Records Law.

UW–Madison currently defines directory information as the following:

  • Name
  • Address (home and mailing)
  • Telephone number
  • Email address
  • Major field(s) of study, degree sought, school/college, and student type (e.g., undergraduate)
  • Enrollment status, including academic level (e.g., sophomore), full- or part-time status, and credit load
  • Dates of attendance
  • Total cumulative credits
  • Expected graduation date/term, and intent to participate in commencement
  • Degrees, honors and awards received (type and date/term granted)
  • Previously attended educational agencies or institutions
  • Participation in officially recognized activities and athletics
  • Height and weight of athletes

In addition, UW–Madison has designated date of birth as limited directory information; it may be used only as detailed below:

  • Date of birth is only released to official agencies as required for matching student records (e.g., National Student Clearinghouse) or as a validation of positive identification of a student when furnished by a person making an inquiry.

All other information contained in students’ education records is protected, non-directory information. Non-directory information includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Social security number
  • Campus identification number
  • Race/ethnicity
  • Residency status
  • Transfer-student status
  • Academic and disciplinary actions
  • Class schedule
  • Courses completed
  • Grades and grade point average (GPA)

A student has the right to restrict the release of their public directory information by placing a FERPA restriction on that data.

Education records

Education records include those records (except those noted in the third paragraph* of this section), in any medium, directly related to a student and maintained by UW–Madison, a UW–Madison school official, or by a party acting for the institution. Education records are stored by the Office of the Registrar and many other offices around campus. Education records include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Documents with a student’s name and ID number
  • Class rosters
  • Grade lists
  • Disciplinary records
  • Student information displayed on a computer screen.

Education records include certain records which students do not have the right to inspect and review. Those records include, but are not limited to, financial records of a parent; and confidential letters and statements of recommendation for admission, employment, or honorary recognition which the student has waived the right to inspect and review.

*Education records do not include:

  • Personal notes of UW–Madison faculty and staff that are kept in the sole possession of the maker and are not accessible or revealed to any other person
  • Medical and counseling records available only to health-care practitioners for treatment purposes
  • Records created and maintained by University Police for law enforcement purposes
  • Grades on peer-graded papers before they are collected and recorded by an instructor
  • Alumni records
  • Observable behavior

Legitimate educational interest

Legitimate educational interest — also referred to as educational “need to know” — means a school official needs to review information in an education record in order to fulfill their professional responsibilities.

FERPA allows UW–Madison school officials to 1) access a student’s education record if they have a legitimate educational interest and 2) share a student’s education record information with other UW–Madison school officials who have a legitimate educational interest. This does not constitute authorization for that person to transmit, share, or disclose any of that information to third parties.

In addition, as detailed in the campus Restricted Administrative Data Policy, authorized users of restricted data — in this case, student education records — “may access said data only to fulfill the job duties for which authorization was granted. Further, an authorized user may not access restricted data for personal use.”

School official

A school official is a person who serves UW–Madison in an administrative, supervisory, academic, assessment, or support staff position, including but not limited to UW–Madison law enforcement personnel, health staff, certain appropriate student employees, and field supervisors. This definition also includes a person or company with whom UW–Madison has outsourced institutional services or functions, such as a contractor, consultant, or volunteer; a person serving on an official UW–Madison committee, such as a disciplinary or grievance committee; or a person legitimately authorized to assist another UW–Madison school official in performing their professional UW–Madison responsibilities.

Student

Under FERPA, a student is any individual for whom an educational institution maintains education records. The term “student” does not include an individual who has not been in attendance at the institution. At UW–Madison, this means anyone who is currently or was ever enrolled for classes at and attended UW–Madison. FERPA coverage begins on the first day of the first term for which students have enrolled for classes. As such, FERPA does not apply to prospective students, applicants, or admitted students until they become an enrolled student in attendance, as specified above.

FERPA also specifies that, for students of universities and other institutions of postsecondary education, FERPA rights apply to eligible students rather than parents, regardless of the age of the student.

Student Directory Information

FERPA specifies that directory information is information contained in an education record of a student that would not generally be considered harmful or an invasion of privacy if disclosed. As such, directory information may be released without the student’s written consent under FERPA. In addition, such information may be required to be released under Wisconsin Public Records Law.

A student has the right to restrict the release of their public directory information by placing a FERPA restriction on that data. More information is available here.

UW–Madison currently defines directory information as the following:

  • Name
  • Address (home and mailing)
  • Telephone number
  • Email address
  • Major field(s) of study, degree sought, school/college, and student type (e.g., undergraduate)
  • Enrollment status, including academic level (e.g., sophomore), full- or part-time status, and credit load
  • Dates of attendance
  • Total cumulative credits
  • Expected graduation date/term, and intent to participate in commencement
  • Degrees, honors and awards received (type and date/term granted)
  • Previously attended educational agencies or institutions
  • Participation in officially recognized activities and athletics
  • Height and weight of athletes

In addition, UW–Madison has designated date of birth as limited directory information; it may be used only as detailed below:

  • Date of birth is only released to official agencies as required for matching student records (e.g., National Student Clearinghouse) or as a validation of positive identification of a student when furnished by a person making an inquiry.

All other information contained in students’ education records is protected, non-directory information. Non-directory information includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Social security number
  • Campus identification number
  • Race/ethnicity
  • Residency status
  • Transfer-student status
  • Academic and disciplinary actions
  • Class schedule
  • Courses completed
  • Grades and grade point average (GPA)

Tips for students

If there’s any doubt about appropriate access to or release of education records, please contact us.

This is an accordion element with a series of buttons that open and close related content panels.

netID and passwords

Never share your netID, passwords, or other credentials with anyone. School officials with a legitimate educational interest have authorized ways to access your education record. No one else should ask for or have access to your email, Student Center, or other systems.

Education records

Find out what makes up your education record, including directory information. Understand what the impacts are of restricting this information, such as public recognition on the Dean’s List or the ability of employers/agencies to verify your enrollment.

Restrict

Learn your options for withholding your directory information from public release.

Parents

For university students, regardless of age, FERPA rights apply to the student alone. As such, parents and guardians do not have a legal right to access your education records without your written consent. Review the information.

You can choose to print or send documents to a parent or guardian from Student Center with your Student Record, grades, enrollment verifications, and more. Do not share your netID and password with your parents, guardians, relatives, or friends.

In the physical and digital classroom

Respect the privacy of others. Some students may have restricted access to their education record, including their name and email address. Students enrolled in a class that uses a course management system (e.g., Canvas) may have access to personal information and academic work produced by other students. FERPA and UW–Madison policy require that students and instructors not reveal information about classmates to anyone outside of the class.

Student safety and emergencies

The Dean of Students Office coordinates reporting and interventions for “students of concern”: any student who is displaying behaviors that may interfere with a student’s ability to be successful at the University or disrupts the learning of others. FERPA allows school officials to share critical information about students of concern with appropriate parties. Please read more information provided by the Dean of Students.

Tips for faculty/staff

If there’s any doubt about appropriate access to or release of education records, please contact us.

This is an accordion element with a series of buttons that open and close related content panels.

Understanding “legitimate educational interest”

Legitimate educational interest means the school official needs to review information in an education record in order to fulfill their professional responsibilities.

FERPA allows a UW–Madison school official to share information from a student’s education record without the student’s written consent, with other UW–Madison school officials who have a legitimate educational interest. This can include private nondirectory information and directory information that a student has otherwise restricted from release to third parties.

Disclosure of education record information to a UW–Madison school official having a legitimate educational interest does not constitute authorization for that person to transmit, share, or disclose any or all of that information to a third party who does not have a legitimate educational interest.

In the classroom

Maintain the privacy of all student academic work (paper and electronic) at all times: in your office, at home, and transit.

Email and social media

Use listservs or blind copy (BCC) when sending email to multiple students. Don’t put students’ personally identifiable information in your subject lines, email messages, or social media posts.

Papers, tests, and academic work

Give students a way to privately submit their papers and other academic work to you directly (e.g., in class) or in a secure location (your locked departmental mailbox). Return papers and other academic work directly to the student. Do not allow students to sort through materials that include classmates’ work, such as in a box outside an office door.

Class rosters

Do not share printed class lists or rosters that include student names, email addresses, etc., without getting permission from your students. Some of your students may have restricted access to that information. Do not include campus ID numbers on class lists.

Grades

Keep grades private. Do not post grades in public places or share with other students.

Course management systems

Students who participate in a course that uses a course management system (e.g., Canvas) may have access to personal information and academic work produced by other students and faculty members. FERPA and UW–Madison policy require that students and faculty not reveal any information about classmates, coursework content, or its authors, to anyone outside of the class.

Instructor Recording and sharing class lectures

If a lecture recording only includes the instructor, the recording is not a student record and not considered protected by FERPA.  If a recording includes student interactions (questions, presentations, etc.) and those students are identifiable, the recording would be a protected educational record. The recording could only be made available to the students in that specific class and/or to university officials with legitimate educational interest in that information – a genuine need for access to perform their duties.  If the instructor wishes to further share the recording outside of the class, either identifiable students would have to provide written consent to release their participation or portions of the recording would have to be changed or omitted to avoid identifying students.  But again, if no students are identifiable in any way (seen, heard or named), the recording would not be FERPA protected.

Student Recording and Sharing Class Lecture

Sometimes students record lectures or copy lecture materials (including your recording) and post them outside of class on internet sites or provide them to note sharing companies. These acts can violate intellectual property rights held by you and the university. UW System Board of Regent policy authorizes you to limit or restrict students from copying, recording or using instructional materials or lectures unless necessary to reasonably accommodate a student’s disability. [Regent Policy Document 4-1] If you wish to impose restrictions, you should inform students of the limitations and the potential consequences of being subject to charges of student misconduct. Notification can be made through your syllabus, a lecture, or by other means to ensure awareness.

Accessing and retaining records

Professional reasons only

Access education records only when there is a legitimate educational interest. You may not access education records for personal interests or for reasons that fall outside your professional responsibilities as a school official. Learn more about campus policies and procedures around restricted administrative data, including student education records.

Record retention

Keep only the education records needed for the fulfillment of your professional responsibilities. Comply with your department’s policies and plan for record retention and disposal.

Releasing and sharing information

Education records, including student directory information that has been restricted, generally may not be released to anyone other than school officials without the written consent of the student.

FERPA flag

If you have access to the Student Information System (SIS) and if there is a FERPA flag on the student’s record, select the window-shade icon to see which kinds of data the student has restricted.

Written consent

Unless it is another school official with a legitimate educational interest, do not share private or withheld student information with others, including other students, without first obtaining the student’s written consent. Written consent must: 1) specify the records to be released; 2) identify the party or class of parties to whom the records should be released; and 3) indicate the reason for the release. The Office of the Registrar provides a form for written consent.

Parents

Do not release to or discuss with parents or guardians a student’s education records without the written consent of the student. At all post-secondary institutions, including UW–Madison, parents and guardians do not have a legal right to their child’s education records, even if that child is a minor.

Letters of recommendation

Because a letter of recommendation will likely reference information in the student’s education record, please get written consent from the student first.

Student safety and emergencies

The Dean of Students Office coordinates reporting and interventions for “students of concern”: any student who is displaying behaviors that may interfere with a student’s ability to be successful at the University or disrupts the learning of others. FERPA allows school officials to share critical information about students of concern with appropriate parties. Please read more information provided by the Dean of Students.