FERPA and Education Research

Certain kinds of educational research are limited by laws related to FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. The information on this page was assembled by the Colorado College Registrar's Office, which can always be contacted directly (719-389-6610) if researchers have additional questions.

FERPA is a Federal law administered by the US Department of Education (34 CFR Part 99). FERPA applies to all educational agencies and institutions that receive federal funding. FERPA is intended to protect the privacy of student educational records. Educational records include any record containing personally identifiable information directly related to the student. Personally identifiable information includes student names as well as indirect identifiers. Examples of personally identifiable information include:

  • Documents with a student's name, ID number, or other identifier
  • Class rosters or grade lists
  • Place of birth
  • Ethnicity
  • Residency status
  • Advisor's name
  • Class schedule
  • Courses completed
  • Grades
  • Disciplinary records
  • Student information as displayed on a computer screen

In many cases, student education records are accessible to and used by professors, other instructors, and administrators for the purposes of conducting the duties of their jobs. For example, professors' jobs require them to have access to student assignments, test scores, and attendance records in order to evaluate performance and ultimately assign a grade. However, the same professor cannot use this access for other itents and purposes such as research. If a professor wants to use student data for research purposes, FERPA applies and student consent is required unless one of FERPA's exceptions to consent is met.

Even when IRB approval and the permission of the relevant students has been obtained, FERPA-covered information that is part of the student's educational record should be requested in writing directly from Phil Apodaca, Colorado College Registrar and FERPA-designee (papodaca@coloradocollege.edu). This applies even if the researcher has direct access to the information as professor and/or administrator; it also applies if the researcher is a student.

Use of educational records for research purposes requires consent. The consent form must:

  • Specify the records to be disclosed,
  • State the purpose of the disclosure,
  • Identify the party to whom the disclosure is to be made, and
  • Include a dated student signature.

The dated student signature may be in an electronic format if the format:

  • Identifies and authenticates a particular person as the source of the electronic consent, and
  • Indicates the particular person's approval of the information contained in the electronic consent.

There are exceptions within FERPA, which allow for the use of educational records for research purposes without consent. These exceptions include the following:

  • The only personally identifiable information falls under what would be considered "directory information" and the student whose information is being sought has not opted out of having their information included in the directory. At CC, the Registrar's Office maintains the list of students who have opted out of having their information included in the directory.
  • The information release is to an authorized representative of state or local educational authorities for an audit or evaluation of federal or state-supported educational programs, or for the enforcement of or compliance with federal legal requirements related to those programs. Researchers must provide the IRB with evidence that they are acting as authorized representatives of a state or local educational authority and that their audit or evaluation meets the conditions described here through the development of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between parties. Please note that this will not include most research projects of interest to CC professors or students (including MAT students).
  • The release is to organizations conducting studies for or on behalf of educational agencies or institutions to develop, validate, or administer predictive tests, to administer student aid programs, or to improve instruction. A written agreement, such as an MOU, that meets FERPA criteria, must be drawn up and approved by Colorado College and the educational agency or institution.

There are no exceptions to the consent rule for researchers at Colorado College who are not conducting systems-wide studies. For example, an exemption cannot be made for an instructor interested in using grades or assignments for a particular class or major. Student consent for the use of the personally identifiable information is required, as is the consent process and materials described above.

Report an issue - Last updated: 06/29/2021