Ask the FERPA Professor

Dear FERPA Professor,

A colleague of mine had a question regarding a student requesting a transcript. The student has a balance due and of course the college will not release the record. In response the student has made a request under our state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

My colleague asked if this state FOIA request supersedes any FERPA regulations on transcript holds? Is the registrar right in denying the request under FOIA since an academic transcript is (or is not) a public record? Any advice you can provide would be appreciated.

Sincerely,

Kara Celle

_______________________________________

Dear Carousel,

Institutions need to comply with FERPA when disclosing information from students’ education records. As such, FERPA would permit the release of a student’s records in response to a state FOIA request, so long as such a release is permitted under FERPA. In the example you provided, FERPA would permit the disclosure of the student’s transcript to the student, but not to some other party. The institution understandably wants the student to pay the outstanding debt prior to any such release. The issue then becomes one of what the state FOIA contains in the way of exceptions, and whether the institution can claim one of those exceptions.

So long story short, from the information you have provided, the institution would have to comply with the request. If you do some digging into the exception clauses in your state’s freedom of information law, there may be ways to withhold the release of said record until such a time as the debt has been settled amicably, but this would vary state-by-state obviously.

As an aside, I will be present at the upcoming Technology and Transfer Conference in Austin, Texas this July 12-14. I will be presenting on FERPA, but will also be available to answer some questions like this in person, so be sure to come out!

I hope this helps,

The FERPA Professor 

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