Field Notes: ‘If’ and ‘when’ to amend academic records

October 26, 2018
  • Academic Policy
  • Data Stewardship
  • Degree Audit
  • Recordkeeping Compliance
  • Records and Academic Services
  • Student Academic Records and Academic Policy
  • field notes
Brian-Pic "Field Notes" is a regular Connect column covering practical and philosophical issues facing admissions and registrar professionals. The columns are authored by various AACRAO members. If you have an idea for a column and would like to contribute, please send an email to the editor at connect@aacrao.org.

by Brian D. Scholten, MEd, Registrar, New College of Florida


A college registrar’s office plays a prominent role in quality assurance by applying best practices to the work it performs. To that end, an essential responsibility of the office is to create, organize, maintain and protect students’ academic records.

The information contained in the academic record is a chronology of a student’s entire quantitative and qualitative educational activities. Preservation of this information helps to safeguard the integrity of the institution. Moreover, higher education accrediting bodies look for this application of generally accepted standards as one means of evaluating the administrative effectiveness of its member institutions.

Important considerations
With the high importance placed on this responsibility, what guidelines are there for determining if and when to amend a student’s academic record?
As a general principle, a student’s academic record should be amended only if an administrative error was made. Even with best intentions, sound management principles and secure information systems, humans make mistakes and we are obligated to correct them.

The following three considerations are critical to the decision-making process.

1. FERPA. A good source for guidance is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). FERPA includes a provision that provides students the right to request an amendment to their education record (of which the academic record is a part) that the student believes is inaccurate or misleading.

Amending a student’s academic record for a reason other than those mentioned above would compromise the integrity of the record and the institution, and be contrary to the ethical standards of our profession.

2. Institutional policy. The Registrar is responsible for interpreting and upholding policy, not making exceptions to policy. Hence, a review and subsequent revision of applicable institutional policies where necessary will ensure the issue of acceptable changes to a student’s record is addressed. A clearly written and publicly available policy provides guidance for making decisions and protects the institution. If you have access to legal counsel, it is good practice to confer with that person in advance of review and approval of the revised policy.

Requests to make a change to a student’s permanent academic record (other than something like a change of grade from Incomplete to a regular letter grade) should be approved and honored only for the most compelling reasons. Some institutions have policies that state the record is closed once a degree is conferred and becomes part of the student’s academic record. A reason that would not qualify is one in which a student requests to have part of their record expunged in order to qualify for a job promotion or acceptance into law school.

3. Implementation procedure. In general, an effective procedure provides explicit direction for 1.) appropriate documentation (a paper or electronic form or memo) of the request to amend a student’s academic record, including justification for the request (for example, missing coursework submitted by student to change a grade of Incomplete to a regular letter grade), 2.) required signature(s), and 3.) the specific part of the student’s record to be amended. How the institution is structured administratively will determine who should sign the document. Typically, the required signatures would be from the faculty member, the division chairperson or dean, and the Provost or his or her designee. 

Communicate with students

Students have an important part to play as well. Encourage currently enrolled students to review their final grades, narrative evaluations, and other information used to assess their academic performance, and to which they have access, carefully and promptly at the end of each semester or term. Refer students to your institution’s FERPA statement and applicable policies for instruction on how to request a change to their records.