The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and Permissive Disclosure: What Information are Post-Secondary Institutions Disclosing and Why?
This study focuses on the response of universities to the permissive disclosure clauses of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). FERPA has been amended nine times; some of these amendments permit universities to disclose personally identifiable information without the permission of students. The purpose of this study is to determine how prevalent disclosure is under the permissive disclosure clauses of FERPA and if universities use the concept of risk management to make decisions regarding disclosure. This will inform administrators of trends in disclosure and provide data universities can use when formulating or revising policy. This is a relational study and utilizes quantitative methods. The chief student life officers at 1,975 baccalaureate degree granting institutions in the United States were emailed a web-based survey. There was a 14.3% response rate. They were asked if their university discloses information under specific circumstances and why they choose to disclose or not disclose. The results show that the majority of universities have made decisions about all but one of the permissive disclosure clauses. The exception is the disclosure of results of disciplinary hearings concerning violent crimes to the general public. There is still a large percentage of universities that have not made and published decisions about the permissive disclosure clauses of FERPA as required by law. There is also a large percentage of universities that have made decisions but have not published those decisions. The majority of universities always or usually disclose in safety emergencies and health emergencies, to employees with a legitimate educational interest, hearings results to victims of violent crimes, and alcohol and drug violations to parents. The majority of universities only sometimes or never disclose information to parents of dependent children and hearing results concerning violent crimes to the general public, to parents of victims, and to parents of perpetrators. The results indicate that universities do consider risk when making decisions regarding the permissive disclosure clauses of FERPA. Concern for students overrides concern for the institution when making disclosure policy decisions.