10 Essential FERPA Best Practices for Educational Institutions

Article FERPA
FERPA Best Practices

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) was designed to safeguard the confidentiality of student education records. The U.S. federal law grants students and their parents the authority to access and review these records, resolve any inaccuracies, and control the distribution of personally identifiable information (PII).

Unless specified by certain exceptions, such as court orders or subpoenas, schools are required to obtain written consent from the student or parent before disclosing any such information. Institutions must establish and adhere to stringent policies and procedures aimed at preserving the privacy of student educational records.

Implementing FERPA best practices is crucial for educational institutions to protect the privacy of student records and maintain compliance with the law. Here are some key FERPA best practices to execute across your institution:

  1. Staff Training and Awareness: All staff members who handle student records are required to receive thorough training on FERPA regulations, including what constitutes PII and their responsibilities in safeguarding student data. Staff not clearly understanding or following procedures for securely handling and/or sharing data results in the most common FERPA violations.

  1. Establish Clear Policies and Procedures: Clear policies and procedures should be developed and communicated regarding the collection, use, and disclosure of student records. This includes specifying who has access to student information and under what circumstances. Your institution should also update policies and procedures accordingly to ensure continued compliance with the law.
  1. Limit Access to Student Records: Restrict access to student records to only those staff members who have a legitimate educational interest in the information. Role-based access controls should be implemented to ensure that employees can only access the information necessary for their job responsibilities.
  1. Secure Data Storage and Transmission: Robust security measures should be employed to protect student records from unauthorized access, both in physical and digital formats. This may include encryption, password protection, firewalls, and secure data storage systems.
  1. Obtain Consent for Disclosure: Written consent should be obtained from eligible students or their parents/guardians before disclosing any PII from student records, except in cases where disclosure is permitted without consent under FERPA.
  1. Maintain Accurate and Updated Records: Student records should be accurate and kept up-to-date to ensure the integrity of the information. Provide mechanisms for students and parents/guardians to review and request corrections to their records as needed.
  1. Respond Promptly to Requests for Access: Requests from eligible students or their parents/guardians for access to inspect and review student records should be responded to promptly. Provide copies of records when requested, within the timeframe specified by FERPA.
  1. Secure Disposal of Records: Procedures for the secure disposal of student records should be performed when they are no longer needed for educational purposes. Shred or securely delete electronic records to prevent unauthorized access.
  1. Monitor Compliance and Conduct Audits: Compliance with FERPA regulations should be regularly monitored and internal audits conducted to identify any areas of non-compliance or vulnerabilities in data security practices. Take corrective action as needed to address issues promptly.
  1. Monitor Third-Party Relationships: As more and more institutions move to cloud-based services, partnering with reputable vendors and ensuring third-party data-sharing agreements outline necessary safeguards and responsibilities are critical. 

RELATED: HIPAA vs. FERPA: High-Level Guidance for Higher Ed

Following these best practices can position your educational institution to effectively protect student privacy and maintain compliance with FERPA regulations. CampusGuard works alongside your organization to assess your adherence to FERPA best practices and keep you informed of any changes or updates to FERPA requirements. Contact us today to learn more!


About the Author
Kathy Staples

Kathy Staples

Marketing Manager

Kathy Staples has over 20 years of experience in digital marketing, with special focus on corporate marketing initiatives and serving as an account manager for many Fortune 500 clients. As CampusGuard's Marketing Manager, Kathy's main objectives are to drive the company's brand awareness and marketing strategies while strengthening our partnerships with higher education institutions and organizations. Her marketing skills encompass multiple digital marketing initiatives, including campaign development, website management, SEO optimization, and content, email, and social media marketing.