Ask the FERPA Professor

June 10, 2020
  • FERPA
  • Financial Aid and FAFSA
  • FERPA Professor
Dear FERPA Professor:  
 

My FERPA question today is an interesting one. Our institution has been asked to disclose students’ SSNs names to an employer who is supplementing the cost of those students’ tuition and fees. The employer is not sending those funds to the institution to offset students’ tuition and fees, but rather padding the student-employees’ paychecks to offset the costs of their classes. As you can imagine there is an interest from the employer to make sure that the students are doing well in the classes that they are paying for.

Would that form of employer-to-student tuition assistance qualify as financial aid under the FERPA provision that allows for exchange of student information if it helps verify criteria were met to earn/keep that financial assistance (“enforce the terms and conditions of the aid”), under 99.31 (4)(i)(d)? I have cautioned that an SSN should never be disclosed by email, however, the student name and any other biographical information that the student has chosen to restrict could be entitled to protection as well.

I suggested that the safest thing to do was to obtain authorization from all of the students each term to release information to the employer. While not efficient, there are only 50 students and if there is a financial incentive to respond to the request for authorization to disclose that information, I imagine it will motivate the students to reply to that request in a timely manner.  What other thoughts and concerns can you offer or share?

I hope you and your family are safe during this challenging time.

Jim Nasium

___________________________________________________________________________________________

Dear Jim,

The family is doing well, and I hope you and yours are the same.
 

Concerning your question: if the company paid for the courses and made clear in a written agreement that the student-employee's paid tuition is dependent on certain factors (and you have evidence of such requirements), i.e., they have to attend so many classes, have to maintain a certain grade average, etc., then the school may (but is not required to) disclose information to the company under the financial aid exception, notably, §99.31(a)(4)(i)(D), enforcing the terms and conditions of the aid.

I haven't had the question before about an employer putting tuition money in the employee's pay check, but as long as the school has some evidence, such as a signed agreement outlining the conditions of the aid, including that it is for tuition assistance, then this would appear to meet the "financial aid" definition found at §99.31(a)(4)(ii).  You can find the cited FERPA regulatory language on page 160 of the 2012 AACRAO FERPA Guide.

Sincerely,

The FERPA Professor