Ask the FERPA Professor

September 5, 2023
  • FERPA Professor
cartoon figure reminiscent of Einstein stands in front of a chalkboard with the board "FERPA" written on it

Dear FERPA Professor,  

My institution has implemented a first-year transition course for all incoming students. It's a 10-week program where the facilitators are both college employees and student peers. Some of my colleagues have requested that these facilitators also be interventionists and approach individual students where a concern has been reported about them. The students would be registered in the facilitator's transition class, so it wouldn't be a complete stranger making the contact. The student's concern could be absences in one of their credit-bearing classes or something else. I've pushed back and asked if the student's faculty advisor or academic support person in the Registrar's Office could be the person to intervene and make contact with the student where there is a concern. I've based my argument on FERPA and who has a legitimate educational interest to the student's academic record.

As a facilitator of a 0 credit transition to college course, I don't believe they are the best person to make contact with a student if there is an academic concern. My colleagues think otherwise and believe that these facilitators have built a rapport with students and that they have a legitimate educational interest in the student's academics. I'm concerned that by sharing these academic concerns with program facilitators, we are breaking FERPA because the facilitator isn't actually involved in the student's academics. I also recognize that there are a number of people at the institution that believe all college employees have a legitimate educational interest in every student's record. 

Any guidance would be greatly appreciated!

Ms. Gaia


Dear Ms. Gaia,

FERPA permits institutions to disclose student education records to "school officials," at the institution, who have been determined to have a "legitimate educational interest" in accessing those records. See § 99.31(a)(1)(i)(A) of the FERPA regulations. To have a legitimate educational interest generally means that the school official has an involvement with the student as part of his or her position at the institution. It is also the responsibility of the institution to ensure that such an educational interest exists prior to permitting access to the particular student's education record. See § 99.31(a)(1)(ii). Thus, for an institution to assume that all school officials have a legitimate educational interest in all student records would, in effect, write out this important limitation of student records access required by FERPA. However, while I understand your concerns with the practice of having student peers/employees have this continuing involvement with fellow students, the situation you describe could, depending on the position description, fit within the legitimate educational interest of those facilitators if such action would meet the institution's definition of legitimate educational interest.

I hope this is helpful in answering your questions. The above-cited regulations can be found on page 159 of the 2012 AACRAO FERPA Guide.

The FERPA Professor

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