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Understanding and Complying with FERPA

“Understanding and Complying with FERPA” is delivered by Registration & Records and was updated September 12, 2008. The presentation is available for download.

For additional information, please contact the Registrar or Associate Registrar.

What is FERPA?

FERPA stands for the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 and is also referred to as the Buckley Amendment. “A federal law designed to protect the privacy of education records, to establish the right of students to inspect and review their education records, and to provide guidelines for the correction of inaccurate and misleading data through informal and formal hearings.”

The Essence of the Act

College students must be permitted to inspect/review their own education records. School officials may not disclose personally identifiable information about students nor permit inspection of their records without the students’ written permission, unless such action is covered by certain exceptions permitted by the Act.

To whom does FERPA apply?

FERPA is applicable to students in both K-12 and Higher Education. At the K-12 level FERPA rights are managed by the parent on behalf of the student. Once the student reaches the age of 18 OR begins attending an institution of higher education, the FERPA rights revert to the student, regardless of age.

Why Comply with FERPA

  • It’s the Law.
  • Failure to comply could result in the withholding of Federal Funds from the institution, including student Financial Aid.
  • Lawsuits caused by violations cost time and money.

Who oversees compliance with FERPA?

At the federal level, this act is enforced by the Family Policy Compliance Office, U.S. Department of Education, Washington, D.C. At the institutional level, questions about compliance with FERPA should be directed to the Registration & Records Office.

When do FERPA rights begin and end for a student?

Rights begin when the student is “in attendance” as defined by the institution. Applicants to the College who are denied admission or who never attend are not covered under FERPA. For Cornish College of the Arts, “in attendance” means the first day of the term in which the student is first enrolled. FERPA rights continue after the student leaves the institution and are only terminated upon the death of the student.

Student Rights under FERPA

  • To inspect their education records
  • To request an amendment to their record and a hearing if their request for amendment is unsatisfactory.
  • To file a complaint with the U.S. Dept. of Education if they feel their rights are being violated.
  • To expect that their education records are kept confidential except where special provisions are made.
  • To suppress disclosure of their directory information.

What are education records?

All records that personally identify or directly relate to a student and that are maintained by an institution. These records can be in any form of media:

  • Documents in the Registrar’s Office
  • Electronic document/email
  • Computer printout
  • Computer display screen
  • Film
  • Microfiche

Some common examples of documents considered part of an education record:

  • Registration forms
  • Transcripts
  • Grades
  • Student schedules
  • Class assignments
  • Class rosters
  • Any paper listing the student’s ID or SSN number

What are not considered to be Education Records:

  • Personal Notes taken by a faculty/staff member and maintained in the sole possession of the one who made the record. However, personal notes taken in conjunction with any other person are not sole possession notes. Sharing personal notes with another person or placing them in an area where they can be viewed by others makes them “education records.”
  • Law Enforcement Unit Records maintained solely for law enforcement purposes and revealed only to law enforcement agencies.
  • Employment Records of those whose employment is not contingent on being a student. Note: Records created as a result of being a student (workstudy, etc.) are considered education records.
  • Medical Records created by a health care professional used only for the medical/health treatment of the student.
  • Alumni Records created after the student has left the institution

Who can access student information without obtaining written consent?

Designated College Officials, who, to carry out their responsibilities, have a legitimate educational interest. A Designated College Official is a person employed by the College in an administrative, supervisory, academic, research or support staff position (including law enforcement unit personnel and health staff). Also considered college officials are Trustees of the Board, a company or person with whom the College has contracted (such as an attorney, auditor or collection agent), temporary employees and student workers employed by the College.

Legitimate Educational Interest

Legitimate educational interest is defined as the need to know in order to:

  • Perform an administrative task outlined in the person’s official job duties.
  • Perform a supervisory or instructional task directly related to the student’s education.
  • Perform a service or benefit for the student such as health care, job placement, financial aid, etc.

What is directory information?

Information that can be released without the student’s written consent (unless a privacy hold has been placed). Each college, to some extent, can determine what information is classified as directory information.

Directory Information at Cornish College of the Arts includes:

  • Name
  • Local telephone number
  • Campus email address
  • Field of study, including major, emphasis, certifications and pre-professional areas of study
  • Classification (e.g. sophomore)
  • Enrollment status (full-time, part-time, etc.)
  • Dates of attendance, including matriculation, drop and withdraw dates
  • Degrees and certificates received, including date awarded
  • Awards

Privacy Hold on Directory Information

Students have the right under FERPA to request that their directory information not be released. To place a privacy hold on Directory Information, the student must complete a form in the Registration & Records Office in the Main Campus Center (MCC). A privacy hold remains in effect until the student submits a written request specifying otherwise.

Privacy Holds

Privacy holds prevent the College from releasing any information about a student. The College cannot even acknowledge that the individual is/has been a student at Cornish. Privacy holds in place by the second week of the full semester will also exclude the student’s directory information from the printed campus directory. Privacy holds also prevent a student’s name from being included in any performance programs, posters, commencement program, etc… Students with privacy holds may sign special releases within their department to be included in these publications/materials.

Who else can access student information without obtaining prior written consent?

  • Whomever the student authorizes by providing the institution with a written release (releases must be written, signed and dated, and must specify the records to be disclosed and the identity of the recipient).
  • Any party requesting directory information (unless the student has a privacy hold).


If non-Directory Information is needed to resolve a crisis or emergency situation, an institution may release that information if the institution deems the information necessary to protect the health or safety of the student or other individuals. The Registrar and/or Provost should advise the determination to release records without consent. The Registrar will also create and maintain a record of this disclosure, and inform the student about this action.

Parent Rights

  • Parents may obtain educational record information by obtaining a signed consent from their child.
  • Unless a privacy hold is in place, parents may obtain directory information at any time.
  • Parents may obtain educational record information without a signed consent if the student is claimed as a dependent for tax purposes. The College will exercise this option only when evidence of such dependency is furnished to the Office of the Registrar.

Helpful Tips

  • When in doubt - don’t give it out.
  • Never use the student ID number in a public posting of grades or other information.
  • Never link the name of a student with the student ID number in any public manner.
  • Never leave graded tests, papers or other student materials for students to pick up, in a stack that requires sorting through the papers of all students.
  • Never circulate a printed class list with student name and ID number as an attendance roster.
  • Obtain written consent before discussing the progress of any student with anyone other than the student (including parents).
  • Never provide anyone with lists or files of students enrolled in your classes for any commercial purpose.
  • Never provide anyone with student schedules or assist anyone other than College employees in finding a student on campus.
  • Never access the records of any student for personal reasons.
  • Never store confidential student information on any computer unless that information is required and secure from intrusion.
  • Do not leave confidential information displayed on an unattended computer.
  • Cover or put away papers that contain confidential information if you are going to step away from your desk.
  • Always refer requests for general student academic information to the Office of the Registrar.

Record Disposal

Records containing Social Security Numbers, student ID numbers, names or grades should be shredded (not just thrown in the garbage or placed in an unsecured recycling bin).

Letters of Recommendation

If non-directory information is included in a letter of recommendation, you must have signed consent from the student. The signed consent should include the following:

  • Who has permission to write the letter
  • Where the letter should be sent
  • What non-directory information should be included

Sample permission letter for writing a letter of recommendation:

I give permission for Dr. Reid to write a letter of recommendation to: Artist Trust, 1835 12th Avenue, Seattle, WA 98122

Dr. Reid has my permission to include my grades, GPA and class rank in this letter. I waive/do not waive my right to review a copy of this letter at any time in the future.

Signature & Date

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