Don’t fear FERPA: Let your students decide.

One of my favorite sayings is, “Your opinion, while interesting, is irrelevant.” In the software development world, this is meant to help us focus on our business priorities. Everyone has an opinion of what the software should do, but the only opinion that really matters is what the customer needs it to do.

I think colleges and universities should take the same approach with FERPA. Many institutions have an opinion of what FERPA should be, but very few consider asking the customer who it was intended for: Their students.

Students want support from their families.

The common narrative is that parents bully (or maybe more on trend, “snowplow”) their way into their student’s educational records. I don’t believe it. Based off the data we’re seeing from more than 300,000 families using CampusESP, it’s as much a student decision as it is a parent decision.

We know that because CampusESP includes an electronic FERPA waiver \that simplifies the process of requesting access to student academic and financial information. Parents make the request... and students decide which records to share. 95% of students choose to grant their parents access to educational records.

Simply put, most students want their parents involved in their educational journey.

60% of parents have their students’ college ID and password.

Yes, you read that right.

The takeaway here is that if you don’t create a path for appropriate parent involvement, parents will plow their own. Most institutions are reporting more parent calls and emails than ever before. Colleges are even creating Parent and Family Program offices to handle the increased activity.

But our research shows an even more pervasive and problematic issue that is generally “unseen” by colleges: Parents are using their student’s ID password to login as their student. Most colleges use single sign-on technology, which means that access to one student password gives access to them all.

What do parents want with their student’s password? Based on survey data from over 8,000 college parents, four of the top five parent requests are for FERPA-protected information.

Top 7 parent engagement interests
(out of 28 choices)

Interests in red require FERPA approval


Stereotypes of the over-involved parent often focus on parents hovering over their student’s grades, but our research suggests that parents often request financial aid and billing information even more.

Student debt is a family matter.

Why do parents care most about student financial aid? That’s because parents have become entangled in this country’s $1.5 trillion student debt crisis. In fact, parents represent the fastest growing demographic affected by student debt, with a 71% increase in student debt over the past five years.

We hear from parents using our platform that they feel like they need to be involved in their student’s financial records. Decisions made by their student can have a direct impact on their credit score, retirement and financial future. Parents want their students to be successful, but they also understand that their student’s education is a significant investment.

What’s a college to do?

I find that FERPA is the single most polarizing question that comes up during a CampusESP demo. Every college wants their students to be independent, successful and happy…. And for some reason, many folks believe these goals are in conflict with family involvement.

But have you asked your college students what they want?

After all, students are not only your customer when it comes to learning and outcomes, they are also the ones FERPA is trying to protect:

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) (20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99) is a Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records.

FERPA gives parents certain rights with respect to their children's education records. These rights transfer to the student when he or she reaches the age of 18 or attends a school beyond the high school level.

We know that managing FERPA can be a monster for colleges and universities. Validating requests, answering parent questions, and shuffling paper takes time and resources. CampusESP can help with that. Our electronic FERPA waiver not only simplifies the process, it also reduces calls to the Registrar’s office (all while maintaining FERPA compliance!).

Furthermore, research strongly suggests that students who share aspects of their educational record with their parents have student retention rates up to 15% higher. When used as an indicator of predicted student success, a completed FERPA waiver has about as much impact as expected family contribution (EFC) or predicted GPA.

It’s time to put the spotlight back on the original intent of FERPA: a student’s right to own the treatment of their academic and financial data.