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What is FERPA (Family Educational Rights & Privacy Act)?

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, as amended (also sometimes referred to as the Buckley Amendment), is a federal law regarding the privacy of student records and the obligations of the institution, primarily in the areas of release of the records and the access provided to these records. Any educational institution that receives funds under any program administered by the U.S. Secretary of Education is bound by FERPA requirements. Institutions that fail to comply with FERPA may have funds administered by the Secretary of Education withheld.

What are Education Records?

Under FERPA, education records are defined as records that are directly related to a student and are maintained by an education agency or institution or by a party acting for the agency or institution. Education records can exist in any medium, including: typed, computer generated, videotape, audiotape, film, microfilm, microfiche and email, among others.

Education records DO NOT INCLUDE such things as:

  • sole possession records, i.e., records/notes in sole possession of the maker, used only as a personal memory aid and not revealed or accessible to any other person except a temporary substitute for the maker of the record (this might include notes an instructor makes while providing career/professional guidance to a student);
  • medical treatment records that include but are not limited to records maintained by physicians, psychiatrists, and psychologists;
  • employment records when employment is not contingent on being a student, provided the record is used only in relation to the individual's employment;
  • records created and maintained by a law enforcement unit used only for only that purpose, are revealed only to law enforcement agencies of the same jurisdiction, and the enforcement unit does not have access to education records;
  • post-attendance records, i.e., information about a person that was obtained when the person was no longer a student (alumni records) and does not relate to the person as a student.

Access to Student Education Records

According to FERPA, personally identifiable information in an education record may not be released without prior written consent from the student. Some examples of information that MAY NOT BE RELEASED without prior written consent of the student are:

  • birth date
  • religious affiliation
  • citizenship
  • disciplinary status
  • ethnicity
  • gender
  • grade point average (GPA)
  • marital status
  • SSN/student I.D.
  • grades/exam scores
  • test scores (e.g., SAT, GRE, etc.)
  • progress reports, e.g. STARS

The Institute will not release personally identifiable information from a student's education record without the student's prior written consent. Even parents are not permitted access to their son or daughter's education records unless the student has provided written authorization permitting the parents' access. Exceptions are noted in the Institute's policy (printed in the Caltech Catalog) concerning the privacy of student education records and includes: access by "school officials" who the institution has determined to have a "legitimate educational interest;" access by school officials at other schools where the student seeks to enroll; access for the purpose of awarding financial aid and subpoenas.

At Caltech these terms are defined below:

"University official" is any person employed by the university in an administrative, supervisory, academic, research or support staff position, a person elected to the Board of Trustees, a student serving on an official university committee, or a person employed by or under contract to the university to perform a specific task.

A university official has a "legitimate educational interest" whenever he or she is performing a task that is specified in his or her position, description, or by a contract agreement, performing a task related to a student's education, performing a task related to the discipline of a student, providing a service or benefit relating to the student or student's family (such as health care, counseling, job placement or financial aid) or disclosure of information in response to a judicial order or legally issued subpoena. (NOTE: At Caltech all subpoenas are first reviewed by the Office of the General Counsel to determine an appropriate response.)

Student's Right to Review and Correct His/Her Records

Students are allowed access to their educational records as follows: A student may inspect his or her academic transcript during normal working hours. To see other records, the student must provide a written request to the registrar or to the director of financial aid or to the dean of graduate studies or to the dean of students, or their deputies, as appropriate. A mutually convenient time will be arranged within 45 days after receipt of the request for the student to examine the records in his or her file. At that time the student may examine all educational records in the file with the exception of those specifically exempted by Part 99 of Title 34 of the Code of Federal Regulations. If circumstances effectively prevent the student from exercising their right to review their education records, the Institute will make other arrangements.

All reasonable requests for explanations or interpretations of the educational records will be honored, and if inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise inappropriate data are found in these records, they will be promptly corrected or deleted.

The student also has the right to insert into the records a written explanation respecting the contents of such records. If the student and the registrar, or the director of financial aid, or the dean of graduate studies, or the dean of students, or their deputies, do not agree on any item contained in the educational records, the student may submit a written request to the provost for a hearing to challenge the content of the records. The provost will schedule such a hearing within 30 days after receipt of the request and will notify the student at a time reasonably in advance of the hearing of its date, time, and place. The hearing will be before a board composed of the provost, the vice president for student affairs, or their designated alternates, and at least one disinterested member of the faculty, who shall be appointed by the chair of the Faculty Board. None of those hearing the challenge may have a direct interest in the outcome. The student will be afforded a full and fair opportunity to present evidence relevant to the issues raised and may be assisted or represented by individuals of his or her choice at his or her own expense, including an attorney. The decision of the board on the correctness of the educational record, as determined by majority vote, will be in writing, will be rendered within 10 days after the conclusion of the hearing, and will be final. This decision will be based solely upon the evidence presented at the hearing and will include a summary of the evidence and of the reasons for the decision. If, as a result of the hearing, the Institute decides that the information in the files is inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise in violation of the privacy or other rights of the student, the Institute shall amend the records accordingly and so inform the student in writing. However, if, as a result of the hearing, the Institute decides that the information is not inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise in violation of the privacy or other rights of a student, it shall inform the student of the right to place in the educational records a statement commenting on the information in the records and/or setting forth any reasons for disagreeing with the decision of the Institute.

Types, Locations, and Custodians of Education Records

Student Academic Records Office of the Registrar
Center for Student Services, Room 125
Financial Aid Records Office of Financial Aid
Center for Student Services, Room 110
Financial Aid Director
Financial Records Bursar's Office
Center for Student Services, Room 120

What is Directory or Public Information?

FERPA has specifically identified certain information called directory information that may be disclosed without student consent.

Caltech has designated the following information as directory information and will release this information, unless the student has submitted a request for non-disclosure:

  • student's name
  • UID
  • addresses (permanent, campus, local/off campus, and email)
  • telephone listings
  • ID photograph
  • date and place of birth
  • major field of study
  • year in school
  • current enrollment status
  • expected date of graduation
  • name of academic advisor
  • participation in officially recognized activities and sports
  • weight and height
  • dates of attendance
  • degrees and awards received
  • thesis title
  • home town
  • most recently attended educational agency or institution

Restricting Release of Directory Information

According to FERPA, a student can request that the institution not release any directory information about him/her. Institutions must comply with this request, once received, if the student is still enrolled.

At Caltech, students who wish to restrict the release of directory information about themselves must complete a "Request To Restrict Directory Information" form, available in the Office of the Registrar or online here. Students have the choice of restricting on-line student directory information, or they can restrict the release of all of their directory information. The completed form must be submitted in person to the Registrar's office and must be accompanied by a photo I.D. Students will be required to renew the request at the beginning of each academic year.

Students who wish to restrict directory information should realize that their names will not appear in the commencement bulletin and other university publications. Also, employers, credit card companies, loan agencies, scholarship committees and the like will be denied any of the student's directory information and will be informed that we have no information available about the student's attendance at Caltech. Students who wish to have specific directory information released may do so by providing a written authorization to the Registrar's Office.

Annual Notification to Students

Consistent with its obligations under FERPA, Caltech annually notifies students of the rights accorded them by FERPA. Please see the document Notification of Rights under FERPA for Postsecondary Institutions.


All staff, as well as any other agents of the university who request access to student academic records, must review the FERPA Q&A and submit a signed confidentiality agreement form. Access to student records will be denied until the tutorial has been completed and the form submitted. The Q&A is intended to insure that anyone accessing student records understands the obligations under FERPA for proper use and protection of student records.


Please contact the Office of the Registrar with general questions, comments or suggestions.

Filing a Complaint

If an eligible student feels that the institution has not fully honored his/her privacy rights under FERPA, a written complaint may be filed with the Family Compliance Office, U.S. Department of Education, 400 Maryland Ave. SW, Washington, DC 20202-4605.

The Family Compliance Office investigates each timely complaint to determine whether the educational agency or institution has failed to comply with the provisions of FERPA. A timely complaint is defined as an allegation that is submitted within 180 days of the date of the alleged violation or of the date that the complainant knew or reasonably should have known of the alleged violation.

updated 8/10/2017