You Can’t Always Get The Information You Want
(Unless You Know These Rules)
Would you like Rochester Community and Technical College (RCTC) to be able to provide you with information such as your student’s academic progress or even tuition balance? If so, read on. You may be surprised to learn that in most cases, RCTC will need your student’s written consent. We hope that this information will help you understand RCTC’s duty to protect student privacy and encourage you to act now to ensure access to student information when you need it – or at least avoid the frustration of being caught unaware of the rules.
Why do colleges and universities say they need to protect the privacy of student records?
It’s not just a school policy, but it’s the law. Minnesota State Colleges and Universities are subject to federal law, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), and state law, the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act (MGDPA), which contain detailed rules about student record privacy. One key provision of those laws is that college and university students have the right to control disclosure of private education records about themselves to third parties – including parents, spouses or other family members. These rights apply to all college or university students – even if they are minors.*
What is an “education record”?
“Education records” that are subject to these privacy laws encompass a wide scope of information. Examples of education records include: grades, housing information, class enrollment, attendance information, counseling or medical records from campus health centers, disciplinary records, tuition balance information – and much more. Most education records are classified as “private.”
Schools may release private education records to third parties – including family members – only if the law permits or if the student has a signed a valid authorization.
Of course, students themselves may release their own information as they wish.
When may school officials release private education records to family members?
In most circumstances, family members will need to show a signed, dated informed consent / authorization to release student information form. Or pickup the form in the Welcome and One Stop Center. However, any document that includes the following would be valid: who is authorized to release the information; to whom the information may be released; what information may be released; the purpose for which the information may be used; the student’s notarized signature; and a date. A simple e-mail or phone call from the student is not a sufficient authorization.
Send the completed form to the RCTC Welcome and One Stop Center.
An original release form is not required. School officials may honor a copy of a valid release, including a fax. An authorization could permit disclosure of information by phone or e-mail so long as an otherwise valid release is on file. A form could also authorize on-going disclosures, such as grades each semester.
We encourage you to discuss with your student signing a release before issues of access arise. Releases may be as broad or a limited as desired. You may want to remind your student of the potential negative consequences of not permitting you to have access to information like tuition balance!
Doesn’t the fact that I pay my child’s tuition give me automatic access to information?
No. You will generally need the student’s written consent for private information, even if you financially support the student in whole or in part.
Can’t a college or university require students to sign a release to parents?
No. Any release of privacy rights requested by the school must be voluntary.
Is there any information that is public about students at a college or university?
Each college or university defines certain information about its students as “directory.” Directory data is available to anyone and no student consent is required to release it. However, students have the right to suppress their directory data so that it is treated as “private.” For those students, school officials may not release their directory data without written consent or other legal authority. RCTC’s definition of “directory” data can be found at the end of this document.** Note that it is subject to change.
Where can I go for further information on the privacy of student records?
Contact the RCTC Data Practices Compliance Officer, Nate Stoltman, regarding student record policies. To make a public data request, click here.
*Records of a PSEO student are routinely shared with the high school where the student is also in attendance. Parents are presumed to have access to a student’s records at the high school unless the student is age 18 or older.
The following items are considered “directory data” at Rochester Community and Technical College and will be made available to the public unless the student submits a completed Request for Non-Disclosure form to the Admissions and Records Office:
- student name
- program of study
- enrollment status (enrolled-full time or part time, graduated, withdrawn)
- dates of enrollment
- degrees, honors, and awards received, as well as dates of receipt
Limited Directory Data
Rochester Community and Technical College designates the following information as limited directory data, which may be released subject to specific limitations on parties, purposes, or both, but not available to the general public:
- student contact information may be disclosed to other Minnesota State institutions for the purpose of marketing transfer opportunities.
- student contact information may be disclosed to the Rochester Community and Technical College Foundation.
- student contact and schedule information may be shared with the RCTC Campus Security Department for investigative purposes.
- graduating student contact information may be disclosed to the contracted commencement photographer for the purpose of providing a proof and order information.
- graduating student contact information may be disclosed to the Workforce Center for the purpose of providing employment assistance and/or other Workforce Center services.
- STAR IDs and email addresses may be shared internally for providing services and technical support to students and for publication in the online Student Directory. Courses which use online methods of instruction may require that email addresses be shared among class members.
- student participation in officially recognized activities and sports, along with height, weight, and high school of athletic team members, for use in RCTC publications.
- student hometown, for use in RCTC publications
- photographs of students, individually and in groups (stills or motion), for use in RCTC publications, student ID cards, and security purposes