FERPA Definitions

Definitions Related to FERPA

Refers to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, as amended, enacted as Section 438 of the General Education Provisions Act (20 U.S.C. 1232g).

A person or business formally authorized to act on another’s behalf.

Includes but is not limited to: (a) attendance – in person or by correspondence study (program); and (b) the period during which a person is working under a work-study (cooperative) program.


The period of time during which a student attends or attended an institution. Examples of dates of attendance include an academic year, a spring semester, or a first quarter. The term does not include specific daily records or a student’s attendance pattern at the institution.

Information contained in the education record of a student that generally would not be considered harmful or an invasion of privacy if disclosed. It includes but is not limited to: the student’s name, address, telephone listing, email address, photograph, date and place of birth, major field of study, dates of attendance, grade level, enrollment status (such as undergraduate or graduate; full-time or part-time), participation in officially recognized activities and sports, weight and height of members of athletic teams, degrees, honors and awards received, and most recent education agency or institution attended.

NOTE: Items that can never be identified as directory information are a student’s Social Security number, citizenship, gender, religious preference, grades and GPA.

Generally means: (1) any public or private agency or institution (including governing boards that provide administrative control or direction of a university system) of post-secondary education that (2) receives funds from any federal program under the administrative responsibility of the Secretary of Education. The term refers to the institution as a whole, including all of its components (such as schools or departments in a university).

Those records directly related to a student and maintained by the institution or by a party acting for the institution.

The term “education records” does not include the following:

Sole Possession Records: Records of institutional, supervisory, administrative, and certain educational personnel that are in the sole possession of the maker and are not accessible or revealed to any other individual except a substitute who performs on a temporary basis (as defined in the institutional personnel policy) the duties of the individual who made the records.

Law Enforcement Records: Records maintained by a law enforcement unit of the education agency or institution that were created by that law enforcement unit for the purpose of law enforcement.

Employment Records: Records relating to individuals who are employed by the institution that are made and maintained in the normal course of business, relate exclusively to individuals in their capacity as employees, and are not available for use for any other purpose.

Exception: Records of individuals in attendance at an institution who are employed as a result of their status as students are education records. For example: work-study students, graduate assistants.

Medical Records: Records relating to a student (see the definition of “eligible student” ) that are:

  • Created or maintained by a physician, psychiatrist, psychologist, or other recognized professional or paraprofessional acting in his or her professional capacity or assisting in a paraprofessional capacity;
  • Used solely in connection with the provision of treatment to the student; and
  • Not disclosed to anyone other than individuals providing such treatment, so long as the records can be personally reviewed by a physician or other appropriate professional of the student’s choice. (Appropriateness may be determined by the institution.)

    “Treatment” in this context does not include remedial educational activities or activities that are part of the program of instruction at the institution.

Post-Graduation/Alumni Records: Records of an institution that contain information relating to a person only after that person is no longer a student at the institution (such as information gathered on the accomplishments of alumni).

A student who has reached 18 years of age or is attending an institution of postsecondary education.

Refers to a student who has satisfied all the institutional requirements for attendance at the institution. The Family Policy Compliance Office has stated that each institution may determine when a student is “in attendance” in accordance with its own enrollment procedures (Federal Register, July 6, 2000, p.41856). At USC, a student is considered “enrolled” when the student has registered and attended their class.

The office within the U.S. Department of Education responsible for enforcing and administering the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, as amended. This office oversees FERPA at all levels of education (K-12, postsecondary).

A decision or determination made by an honor court or council, committee, commission, or other entity authorized to resolve disciplinary matters within the institution. The disclosure of final results must include only the name of the student, the violation committed and any sanction imposed by the institution against the student.

When is a student “in attendance”. See “Enrolled Student”.

An institution that provides education to students beyond the secondary school level. “Secondary school level” means the educational level (not beyond grade 12) at which secondary education is provided.

Any individual or other component of an institution, including commissioned police officers and noncommissioned security guards, officially authorized by the institution to enforce any local, state or federal law and to maintain the physical security and safety of the institution. (Although the unit may perform other non-law enforcement functions, it does not lose its status as a law enforcement unit.)

Those records, files, documents and other materials that are:

  • Created by a law enforcement unit;
  • Created for a law enforcement purpose; and
  • Maintained by the law enforcement unit.


Law enforcement records do not include:

  • Records created by a law enforcement unit for a law enforcement purpose other than for the law enforcement unit; or
  • Records created and maintained by a law enforcement unit exclusively for non-law enforcement purposes, such as a disciplinary action or proceeding conducted by the institution.

The demonstrated “need to know” by those officials of an institution who act in the student’s educational interest, including faculty, administration, clerical and professional employees, and other persons, including student employees or agents, who manage student record information.

Although the Act does not define “legitimate educational interest”, it states that institutions must establish their own criteria, according to their own procedures and requirements, for determining when their school officials have a legitimate educational interest in a student’s education records.

Includes a natural parent, a guardian, or an individual acting as a parent in the absence of a parent or a guardian.

Data or information that include:

  • The name of the student, the student’s parent, or other family members;
  • The student’s address;
  • A personal identifier such as a Social Security number or student number; or
  • A list of personal characteristics or other information that would make the student’s identity easily traceable.

Any information or data recorded in any medium (such as handwriting, print, tapes, film, microfilm, microfiche or any form of electronic data storage).

Those members of an institution who act in the student’s educational interest within the limitations of their “need to know”. These may include faculty, administration, clerical and professional employees, and other persons, including student employees or agents, who manage student education record information.

Although the Act does not define “school officials”, it states that institutions must establish their own criteria according to their own procedures and requirements for determining them. This is a recommended definition.

Records kept in the sole possession of the maker, are used only as a personal memory aid, and are not accessible or revealed to any other person except a temporary substitute for the maker of the record.

Any record made in conjunction with a student or other school official is not a sole possession record.

Any individual for whom an education institution maintains education records.

The term does not include an individual who has never attended the institution. An individual who is or has been enrolled in one component unit of an institution and applies for admission to a second unit has no right to inspect the records accumulated by the second unit until enrolled therein.

Referred to in this publication as SRTK, the act requires colleges and universities to report graduation rates to current and prospective students.

A command from a court to require the person named in the subpoena to appear at a stated time and place to provide testimony or evidence. There are two main types of subpoenas:

  • A duces tecum subpoena requires the production of documents, papers, or other tangibles.
  • An ad testificandum requires person to testify in a particular court case.

United States Code. A compilation of all federal legislation organized into 50 titles. Revised every six years with supplementary volumes issued in intervening years. The legislation related to FERPA is found in 20 U.S.C. 1232g (see Appendix I).