Executive Director Update – FERPA Office Restructuring

November 8, 2018
  • Advocacy
  • education department
  • Federal Regulations
  • Federal relations

Last week, news outlets reported that the U.S. Education Department intends to carry out an administrative overhaul to restructure the agency. One proposal would impact how our members interact with the agency with regards to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

The department will reportedly dissolve the current Office of the Chief Privacy Officer (OCPO) and create a new Student Privacy Policy Office. The Student Privacy Policy and Assistance Office and the Family Policy Compliance Office (FPCO) will be combined and housed under the new division, which will oversee student privacy assistance to states and school districts as well as FERPA complaint investigations. The position of chief privacy officer will move over to the Office of the Chief Information Officer, which has historically dealt with information technology issues.

In addition, the department issued
plans to amend the FERPA regulations to change the name of the office designated to administer the law from the OCPO to FPCO.

AACRAO is extremely supportive of the proposal to restore FPCO and its Director as the office designated to administer FERPA in all aspects. In fact, the association
sent a letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos earlier this year, urging the department to make this change. We also made this suggestion last year when the Department sought input on Executive Order 13777, "Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda," and any regulations that could be appropriate for repeal, replacement or modification. AACRAO has been deeply engaged on this issue as the current FERPA office structure has created a lot of confusion within the higher education community. However, we would encourage the department to maintain the FPCO name for the office, as yet another name change would only exacerbate the issues of confusion for institutions, higher education associations, and other agencies alike.

As background, FPCO (or its predecessor in name) has overseen the implementation of FERPA since the enactment of the law in 1974. Historically, institutions have worked only with this office on all issues related to FERPA compliance and enforcement. However, the Obama administration's January 2017 rule changing the office that administers FERPA-related issues from not one, but two offices within the Department.

We believe the proposed privacy office restructure will provide clarity to the higher education community on who they need to contact regarding FERPA-related issues and we appreciate the agency’s consideration of our suggestions. We plan to support the new rulemaking once it is formally introduced. AACRAO members will also have an opportunity to comment on the proposed changes through the online Advocacy Center at that time.

So, please look for updates and additional information regarding the department's efforts to restructure its FERPA office.