Have questions about FERPA? Want to know what information you have access to about your student? Here is a list of common questions for parents and guardians.


What is FERPA?

FERPA, Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, is a federal law that governs the protection and release of and access to student education records. FERPA applies to all schools that receive funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education. If you would like more information, go to the U.S. Department of Education.

Why do I have limited access to my student’s university records?

FERPA’s primary purpose is to establish a uniform framework for access, review, and correction of academic records at all schools nationwide. In primary and secondary educational institutions, FERPA grants these rights to the parent, but these rights are transferred exclusively to the student once the student reaches the age of 18 or attends a school beyond the high school level (i.e., a post-secondary educational institution no matter the age of the student). Students who wish their records to be released to a parent or third party must authorize the university in writing.

What is considered an educational record?

FERPA covers a broad range of records. Educational records include any record maintained by the institution or by a party acting for the institution that is related to the student (in whatever format or medium). Examples of student records entitled to FERPA protection include grades, transcripts, most disciplinary files, billing records, financial aid records, etc. Additionally, between FERPA and HIPAA, a student’s counseling and medical records are protected as well.

Does FERPA still apply if we are paying the bill?

Yes, FERPA regulations still apply even if the parents are paying the bills for tuition, fees, etc.

Where can I find more information about FERPA?

University of Northwestern’s FERPA policy is available on Northwestern’s public site for guests and on myUNW for students. The U.S. Department of Education also maintains a website about FERPA.

How does my student gain access to her/his grades?

Final course grades are due approximately 3 weeks after the end of semester and quad courses. Students can view these grades via myUNW after the grades are posted.

May I use my student’s access information to myUNW to access his/her university records online?

No. For best security practice, students should never lend their account access information to anyone.

How can I make sure that university related bills are sent to me or find out about my Financial Aid information?

Before any verbal or written student account or financial aid information can be released, the student would need to complete an electronic authorization which allows parents or a third party to receive information concerning the student’s account. If your student desires to provide you this authorization, he/she must invite you as an authorized user via myUNW, and then you must log in and verify your name and e-mail address. After this authorization is received, the Student Accounts staff will then be able to release information concerning billing, and the Financial Aid staff will be able to release aid information. As such, each time the electronic bill is sent, an e-mail notification will be sent to your e-mail address. No paper statements will be mailed.

Is there a single waiver that my student can sign so I can have access to all of their records?

No. While the answer to the previous question is in regard access to student account (i.e., billing and financial aid) information, in order for a student to provide access to parents or others regarding academic or student life information, the student can do so by filling out a FERPA Student Information Release Form (available via myUNW) and returning the form to the Registrar’s Office and/or the Student Development office, depending upon the information the student desires to release. On the form, the student indicates which types of information to release and to whom. If the release is in regards to providing academic related information, those identified as authorized to receive the information must submit their request in writing to the Registrar’s Office each time the information is desired. The information will not be released automatically, but rather, only after receipt of a request to do so from an authorized recipient. The request from the authorized recipient must include:

  • the recipient’s printed name,
  • the academic information sought,
  • where the information is to be sent, and
  • the signature(s) of the authorized recipient(s).

Will Northwestern notify me if my student is in academic jeopardy (i.e., placed on academic probation, etc.)?

Northwestern will not contact you about your student’s grades or academic performance. This information is made available only to students, their academic advisor, and other school officials who have a legitimate educational interest to know such information. We suggest that you ask your student to keep you informed about his/her academic performance.

Can I contact instructors or faculty advisors with questions about my student’s academic progress?

Faculty must abide by FERPA and will be unable to provide any specific information about grades, academic performance, etc.

Does Northwestern inform parents when their student is seeing a university counselor?

No. Students who come to the Northwestern Counseling Services are assured of the strictest standards of confidentiality in accordance with the ethical standards of the counseling profession. In particular, everything discussed with a counselor remains confidential and is not shared with other University of Northwestern personnel or family members without expressed written permission by the counselee/student. There are limits to this confidentiality, which mainly concern safety, e.g. if a student/counselee is at risk of imminent harm to themselves or others, or if there is reported abuse regarding a minor or vulnerable adult. In these cases, appropriate persons will be notified.

Does Northwestern inform parents when their student is seeing a health professional in the university Health Services office?

No. Health information for University of Northwestern students is administered under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) of 1974, as amended, and applicable laws of the state of Minnesota. At University of Northwestern Health Services, it is necessary that we use and share the minimum necessary amount of your student’s health information for necessary treatment, payment and health care operations. At all times, your student’s health information is held in confidence, and treated as private and personal information. Except when required or allowed by law or in a medical emergency, your student’s health information is not shared with persons (i.e., parents, family members, faculty, administrators, potential employers, or others) who are not involved in your student’s care and treatment. All Health Services staff members have acknowledged and understand their personal responsibility to protect your student’s health information. Students must sign a release of confidential information form in order for us to release their medical information to others (i.e., those not directly involved in their medical care).

It is our practice to encourage your student to notify you directly regarding serious health issues. If he/she prefers that a member of our Health Services staff speak directly with you, we will ask your student to sign a release of confidential information form. This will enable our staff to communicate directly with you.

Will Northwestern contact me if my student is injured?

When Student Development or Public Safety staff members are informed that an injured or ill student is going to the local hospital, the staff member will help facilitate the process of parent notification. Students are highly encouraged to contact their parents/guardians and share this information on their own. The staff member will contact parents only with the student’s permission or if there is a serious injury or illness that has rendered the student unable to consent.

Will I be informed if my student has disciplinary action taken against him or her?

Each student involved in a disciplinary incident is entitled to due process as outlined in the University of Northwestern Student Handbook, the purpose of which is to determine the student’s level of responsibility for any infraction of university policy and the appropriate response from the university. Most violations will not be reported to parents or guardians, but there are some occasions when parents will be informed. When a student is held responsible for a serious violation of the alcohol and drug policy, parent notification is often required.