FERPA empowers students

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Congratulations, first-years. You made it through the first half of your first semester. You might not think that’s much in the way of accomplishments, but the adjustment of moving to college shouldn’t be marginalized. A lot in your life has changed in only a few short weeks. You probably feel pretty close to people you didn’t even know only a few short months ago.

So while all sorts of major changes are happening in your life, I’d like to highlight a smaller, yet still important, change. For most of you, this is the first time in your life that you have no obligation to tell your parents about your grades. mid-semester grades came out last week, and it is your prerogative to keep the news all to yourself.

This is a fact guaranteed by law. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, stipulates that students who are above the age of 18 or attend a school beyond the high-school level have control over their educational records. Your parents cannot require that the school send them a report card — that is illegal unless you’ve given the school explicit consent (read: signed a form).

And I think this is important. Your parents will likely counter with the point that you’re not financially independent (if you are, good for you), so they deserve to know how you’re doing in a school that they pay to have you attend. But frankly, there is a lot about your life that your parents are likely to have no idea about. They don’t see you anymore — at least not as often — and I’m sure it scares the pants off of them.

But let me return to why FERPA is important. When you left for college, your parents were forced to trust you. They have limited ways to check in on how you’re doing. Even with cell phones, they don’t have the influence they once did, so they have to trust that you make good choices. FERPA is a good reminder that they need to trust you. They can’t sneak behind your back and check in with your teachers. No matter how overbearing they were in high school, federal law requires them to kick that habit. The responsibility of monitoring your progress in school is yours.

Despite all of that, you should keep up your end of the deal and tell your parents your grades. While the law is kind enough to force your parents to trust you, you should respect your parents and keep them up to date. As much as we all want everyone to acknowledge how hard we work and how independent we are, you are here in some part because of your parents. So respect that they helped you get here and let them know how it’s going. If you want them to trust you, don’t let them think you’re keeping secrets. The last thing you want is a fight about signing the FERPA release form. It will break down the respect from both parties.