One of the most significant changes a family experiences in sending a student off to college is the difference in privacy standards for educational records at the University. The University of Michigan has a long history and tradition of protecting student privacy. Additionally, the University of Michigan is subject to a federal law called the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (also called FERPA or the Buckley Amendment) that sets privacy standards for student educational records and requires institutions to publish a compliance statement, including a statement of related institutional policies. The University of Michigan policies often raises questions from parents, and we have provided the answers to many of these questions here:

What records does FERPA cover?

The privacy protection FERPA gives to students is very broad. With limited exceptions, the FERPA regulations give privacy protection to all students’ “education records.” Education records are defined as “those records that are directly related to a student and are maintained by an educational agency or institution or by a party acting for the agency or institution.” Examples of records entitled to FERPA privacy protection are grade reports, transcripts, and most disciplinary files. FERPA does not cover treatment or medical records but other policies do. Please see below for further information about these types of records.

How can I find out my student’s grades?

The best approach is to ask your student directly. Communicating with young adults can be a challenge. They’re not always as forthcoming as we would like. The college years, however, are a period of remarkable growth and maturation. The ability and willingness of students to share information and insights usually grows, especially as they acquire the confidence that comes with assuming greater responsibility for their own lives.

Is there a single waiver that my student can sign so I can have access to all of the records or are there separate waivers for different offices?

The University of Michigan does not have a single waiver that students can sign to give families access to their records. In carrying out their assigned responsibilities, many offices at the University of Michigan collect and maintain information about students. Only two offices have records on all students. The Registrar’s Office maintains information pertaining to a student’s enrollment (registration) and official academic record. The Student Financial Services maintains information about charges assessed and payments made to a student’s account.

By direction of the Board of Regents, however, each office that maintains student records is required to develop a written statement of its policies and procedures for handling those records; that statement is available in the particular office. In addition, the University’s “Policies on Student Records” and the pertinent federal law, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA) is available online.  If you desire access to certain information, we recommend that you ask your student to provide permission to the office that is handling a particular matter. Written permission must be provided for each request. It is not a blanket release to the individual, rather permission for a specific transaction.

Why do I have limited access to my student’s  college records especially when I am paying the bills?

Under FERPA, the access rights that parents and legal guardians had in the elementary and secondary school setting are transferred to students, once a student has turned eighteen, or is attending any post-secondary educational institution. Parents can be given access to their student’s records if the student authorizes the permission in writing or in connection with the student’s application for, or receipt of, financial aid.

How can I make sure the university-related bills are sent to me?

The University uses online billing statements; they are not mailed. Students view their statements through Wolverine Access, the U-M student database. Parents can also have access to student account and financial aid information through Wolverine Access, with the student’s consent. First, the student authorizes a parent to have access to selected student information. Then, parents can create a Friend Account in Wolverine Access to access the student account and financial aid information. Further information on how students can authorize parents to have access to Wolverine Access billing statements is available online through Student Financial Services.

Where can I find out more information about FERPA?

FERPA is enforced by the U.S. Department of Education. The Department maintains a FERPA website, with links to FERPA regulations.

Will I be notified if my student is placed on academic probation?

No. Information about grades and academic standing is provided directly to students. You can, of course, ask your student to keep you informed about academic performance.

Will I be notified if my student is hurt or in danger?

If we learn of an emergency involving one of our students, we will attempt to notify the student’s parents only in accordance with specific departmental emergency notification policy and procedures. Hospitals and police agencies maintain separate emergency contact information. Similarly, other University departments or programs may request and maintain emergency contact information for specific purposes, such as University Housing or study abroad programs. We encourage students to update their emergency contact information in Wolverine Access to facilitate outreach in emergencies.

What if my student is hurt or in danger in a sorority or fraternity house?

Fraternities and sororities are separate, private residences that are not under the control or supervision of the University. Students living in fraternity and sorority houses have greater autonomy than students residing in residence halls, especially because the fraternity or sorority houses are located off-campus and are under the police jurisdiction of the Ann Arbor Police Department. These facilities are managed by independent housing corporations, which enter into individual lease agreements with students rather than the University. Nonetheless, the fraternity and sorority student officers and facilities managers are requested to inform University staff when a health or safety emergency occurs. Often these representatives of the group have already notified family members of the student involved. If the Office of Greek Life staff are aware of students in life threatening situations and parents have not already been contacted by health or safety personnel, they will make every effort to contact parents at that time. Students and other university community members may also file a complaint with the Office of Student Conflict Resolution against the students involved in any incident at a sorority or fraternity house which constitutes a violation of the Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities.

What if my student is in danger off-campus?

Generally, students are not subject to the University's control or supervision, while off-campus. However, if we learn of an emergency involving a U-M student, we will attempt to notify the student’s parents in accordance with our emergency notification policy and procedures. Hospitals and police agencies will also follow their own notification protocols.

I've heard about a FERPA provision allowing parents to have access to their student's educational records if the parent claims the student as a dependent for federal tax purposes. What position has the University taken regarding this provision?

FERPA regulations authorize—but do not require—disclosure of student records to parents of a student who is claimed as a dependent for federal tax purposes. The University of Michigan's student record privacy policy does not take the student's federal tax dependent status into consideration. Generally, student records will only be disclosed to parents when the student provides written permission to do so or when there is a health or safety emergency that warrants such disclosure.

I’ve heard about a FERPA provision allowing notice to parents when a student violates alcohol or drug laws. What position has the University taken on this rule?

The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) governs release of and access to student education records. In 1998, Section 952 clarified that institutions of higher education are allowed (but not required) to notify parents if a student under the age of 21 at the time of notification commits a disciplinary violation involving alcohol or a controlled substance. Because of the health and safety risk inherent in alcohol and other drug misuse, the University of Michigan notifies parents/family members when a first year student under age 21 has a serious alcohol or other drug (AOD) event. Examples may include alcohol-related hospital transport, an arrest for marijuana, or more than one alcohol or drug-related violation of either the Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities or the Community Living At Michigan (CLAM). For more information visit www.uhs.umich.edu/parent-communication.

Will I be informed if my student is treated at the University Health Service?

By law, UHS services are confidential for students 18 and older and emancipated minors. These students must consent to release of medical information. Parents of minors, however, are entitled to medical information, except for information about contraception, pregnancy testing, sexually transmitted disease, and substance abuse services. UHS clinicians encourage students to talk to parents when appropriate and will contact parents of minors for serious conditions and some procedures. Additionally, UHS clinicians will contact parents of students 18 and older for serious conditions, with student permission.

Will I be informed if my student is seeing a counselor at Counseling and Psychological Services?

State laws and professional ethical codes preclude the U-M from sharing student counseling records with third parties, including parents, without the student’s consent. There are important policy reasons supporting these confidentiality requirements, including the proven therapeutic benefits associated with encouraging students to talk openly and candidly with a counselor—without fear their conversations will be reported to others. Confidentiality, of course, is not absolute. It can be broken (and parents notified, as appropriate) if counselors determine that a student poses an imminent danger to self, or to an identifiable third party.

How will I know if my student is subject to University disciplinary action?

In general, the University does not inform parents of student disciplinary action but regularly encourages students to inform their parents regarding serious infractions. As the family member of a student at the U-M, you may have numerous questions and concerns about the non-academic conflict resolution process. The Office of Student Conflict Resolution (OSCR) administers this process, and they have general information about the Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities on their website. The OSCR staff is always available to discuss general information about the resolution process, University policies, and related laws. It is important to know that federal law prohibits OSCR staff from releasing most information about a student’s involvement in the resolution process without the student’s written permission, even to family members. In addition, at U-M, each school and college has its own policies regarding academic misconduct and those records are kept in those units. 

The University does have a policy regarding communication with parents/family regarding alcohol and other drug misuse. Because of the health and safety risk inherent in alcohol and other drug misuse, U-M will notify parents/family of first-year students under the age of 21:

  • If a student has committed an alcohol or other drug (AOD) violation accompanied by other serious behaviors such as needing medical attention, significant property damage or driving under the influence
  • If a student has had a second alcohol or other drug violation

The AOD Parent-Family Communication Program Manager at UHS Wolverine Wellness will contact parents/family in these circumstances.