FERPA and your tuition bill
One of the most important papers your student can sign is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) form. Passed in 1974, this federal law is designed to protect the privacy rights of students. FERPA limits access to student records, including both financial records (tuition bills and scholarships) and academic reports (grades and disciplinary records). College students, even those under 18 years of age, are protected by this law. Students must list the names, and relationships, of anyone who is allowed access to his/her records.
Without a signed FERPA release form on file, parents CANNOT talk to the Bursar or Financial Aid counselor regarding errors in the tuition bill. Parents are effectively cut off from any access to student information. When Greg, my oldest son, attended college there were at least two instances when his tuition bill was wrong. Since he had signed the FERPA form, I could work through these problems with the financial aid person, in one case to ensure that his scholarship for summer study was properly credited to his account. I’ve learned that it is not unusual for busy college students to ignore, or to spend minimal effort and energy in resolving tuition glitches. Normally I would make him suffer the consequences of his actions; however, these risks were too high. Had the bill not been paid on time, he would have incurred late fee penalties and his classes could have been cancelled. I couldn’t risk having him lose his classes, or his status as a full-time student – his health insurance and the repayment schedule for his loans both depended on this status.
At most universities, students will need to sign this form only once! It remains in effect for the duration of their college careers at that institution. If your student neglects to sign part A of the form, you can gain access by completing Part B instead. Part B has two requirements–first, your student must be your dependent in accordance with “Section 152 of the Internal Revenue Code.” You must also send the college a SIGNED copy of your most recent Federal Income Tax form. See familypolicy.ed.gov for more information.
Yet another word of caution: Since colleges now send bills to each STUDENT’S email address, your student must retrieve this information for you for the first billing cycle. He, or she, also has to provide you with enough time to study the bill, verify that it is correct and pay it on time. With the signed FERPA, you can access billing information directly via phone. At my freshman’s school, he can also grant us access to a university email account–thus allowing us to have another copy of the bill sent directly to our email account. Unfortunately, this new procedure won’t be in place until after the first semester begins.