October 8, 2016 • By Dennis Beaver
Today’s story will be of special interest to college students, their parents, and anyone wanting to create a college scholarship and be certain where the money goes.
But first, for readers who are over 30, look back over the past few years. How old were you when life just felt different, the fog of adolescence lifted, you “got it,” and realized “I’m an adult.”
Most people will answer “25, 26 or so,” which is supported by neurological research, and admit that before then, their world was painted in the color immature. How many of us want to remember the embarrassing, impulsive, childish things we thought, said and did at age 18, little or no thought given to consequences?
Just look at the deadly auto accidents caused by 18 year-old adult drivers, trying to beat a train through a crossing, passing on a blind curve, the list is endless. Mature, adult thought and analysis does not suddenly appear on a college student’s 18th birthday. Yet we give them the power to do themselves and others great harm with the help of FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974.
Intended to protect a student’s privacy — only allowing parents access to school records — upon reaching 18, those rights transfer to the student, the law stating, “College students are considered responsible adults who may determine who will receive information about them.”
While there are some exceptions, a student at a college where FERPA applies legally can prevent mom and dad from knowing if they are ill, attending class, are in trouble academically, or legally.
“This is dangerous,” commented one California university admissions officer–on condition of not naming her campus. “Face it, at 18 you are still a kid, and it is easy to become distracted, lose focus, get into the party scene.
“For many students there is a false sense of being independent, and do not even want to be seen with their parents. This is when they need family more than ever, but unless we have a signed release, generally we can’t say a thing.”
For college students reading this story, you can authorize the school to release information to mom and dad, or any third party, such as a scholarship organization. All colleges have FERPA Waiver/Release forms available for you to sign, date and specify the records to be released, the reason for the release and the names of the parties to whom such records will be given.
“The old saying ‘He who pays the piper calls the tunes’ comes to mind,” the admissions officer pointed out. “If you are paying for your kid’s education, then you should know if that money is being put to good use. When I meet with students and their parents, we discuss privacy rights, and offer them our school’s waiver form to sign. Parents must not be intimated by their brilliant, but still only 18, college freshman,” she cautions.
An IRS approved educational foundation, clients of our office, offered a university foreign language department an amazing gift. “Each year we will send two of your best and financially needy students overseas for a summer study program.”
The foundation had been doing this for over 20 years for high school and college students who provided financial information, and letters of recommendation. Applicants were interviewed on the phone by the foundation’s president, who later joined a panel of teachers at the school.
Every year, after winners were selected, but before their trip, they were invited to lunch with the donors as a way of encouraging the spirit of giving back when out in the working world.
20 years later and close to two million dollars in grants — all from private money — lives were changed in many positive ways.
All went well the first year, students having the time of their lives, studying overseas.
And then the second year no applications were received. Why?
“You cannot have that information! Privacy. FERPA,” the school’s Director of Development explained. “And you should never have had the applications last year, spoken with them or pressured them to have lunch with you,” she yelled.
“What are you talking about? The students simply can sign a release,” replied the foundation’s president. And what do you mean by pressure?” These are 21 year old adults thrilled they would soon be on their way overseas!”
“Just give us the money next year and we will pick the students,” she arrogantly replied.
The foundation has no further relation with the university, its students cheated out of something wonderful by blind allegiance to FERPA.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.