Saturday, October 10, 2015

FERPA eliminates lazy college kid stereotype. Linked Article. No Context. No Duck. It's a Lot of Work For a Saturday. From the Daily Trojan.

FERPA says USC puts the student as the chief executive of his or her private academic information. It’s supremely important for us to finally shed the image of the lazy millennial.

The legislation has been around for more than 40 years, about a decade before Generation Y even hit the scene. FERPA lasts even after our college careers end, so it’s likely that most of our parents are also covered by the act.

A recent Los Angeles Times article claimed “college students have too much privacy.” To prove their point, they included a horror story about how a parent was kept in the dark for years about their child not actually graduating.

This is not a once-in-a-lifetime story, USC’s Associate Registrar Bob Morley told me. In his 30 years in academia, he has encountered a handful of parents who didn’t know about their kids’ academic struggles. Since FERPA’s enactment, parents have lobbied Congress to loosen its restrictions on guarding their child’s records from them.



  1. The claim: FERPA eliminates lazy college kid stereotype.

    The evidence: several examples of students not doing things for themselves, including

    * TL;DR [because we can't digest passages longer than 140 characters]

    * Sometimes it’s easier for our parents to do for us what we feel like we don’t have time to do for ourselves. [because feeling we don't have time is reason enough to avoid the work]

    * it’s becoming increasingly important to educate [students] on the security of their [own] records. [because they won't educate themselves without childhood game tactics to cajole them into it}

    * FERPA eliminates lazy college kid stereotype [because they were too lazy to eliminate it themselves and needed an outside agent to do it for them]

  2. There is sometimes a long-term consequence to such a policy.

    At the institution where I used to teach, there was a major scandal involving an administrator who didn't have the qualifications she claimed she did. Apparently, she never finished the degree she began and didn't tell her family about it, though I don't know if that place had a privacy policy.

    The result was that she convinced other people that she actually graduated and had a career with the associated title, though, obviously, under false pretenses. Years later, someone began asking questions about her qualifications and things began unravelling.

    I think you can guess the rest.

    1. She is the president now?

    2. Hell yes, president. When you lie, you've got to double down. If anyone questions your credentials, remind them that they are questioning the office of the president,

      I think the policy allows the student to release specific information to certain entities when so desired. For instance, releasing an official copy of a transcript or degree status to a future employer is easily arranged with the registrar; waivers must be signed or something. Somewhere, an employer failed to verify the credential.

      Come to think of it, I don't recall doing any of that stuff when I did my first post-doc or assistant proffie gig. I've got the printed diploma, but what if it's fake and my impostor syndrome is not a coincidence?

    3. She eventually became department head and, one day, suddenly resigned and disappeared. That's when rumours about her began circulating across campus. Eventually the long arm of the law caught her and she was dealt with accordingly.

      A few years later, I heard some scuttlebutt that the credentials of the institution's president might not have been quite as portrayed. Similarly, I knew of at least one department administrator who openly committed fraud about his professional qualification.

      I, on the other hand, could always provide proof with either a certificate on the wall of my office or a card in my wallet.

      Nice place I was at, wasn't it?

    4. Another P. S. to my first comment.

      For years, the institution would publish the names and qualifications of its teaching staff in the student calendar. Those qualifications included not just education but credentials such as professional registrations and occupational certifications.

      After the incident I described earlier, the names and qualifications were still published in the calendar, but there was a disclaimer at the beginning of that section. It stated that the credentials of the people that were listed were not verified. (What a way to instill confidence in prospective students....)

      Eventually the president I mentioned retired. After his successor took over, the names of the teaching staff were no longer printed in the calendar. One reason, I suppose, was to prevent the institution from embarrassing itself with that disclaimer. Another was that, while he was in charge, the number of permanent positions was cut and each new instructor that was hired was a contractor.

    5. I've been asked to verify my credentials multiple times (perhaps because I've officially applied to and been hired to my present job at least 3 times, not counting contract renewals). I can report that it doesn't help much with imposter syndrome (having/making more time to research and write, and publish would help -- or at least I think so; it may be that imposter syndrome is not that easily cured. Oddly, I've never had a nightmare about not having finished the Ph.D., despite the many stressful years I spent A.B.D; I did, however, begin having nightmares about not having finished high school, and needing to do so, soon after I defended. Those seem to have waned over time.).

      The credentials of anybody with a big-D degree should, of course, be verifiable not only through the registrar of the degree-granting institution, but also through Dissertation Abstracts International (if you have a diss listed there -- assuming it's not plagiarized -- you probably earned the degree; if not, at least for U.S. degrees, chances are good you don't. Or so I believe; maybe there are some exceptions I don't know about, but in these days of online library catalogs, most of those could probably be covered by searching the granting institution's catalog, which should reflect a copy on deposit there).

    6. Phwew. I feel better. I once found that someone had plagiarized a small passage from my diss, so that proves I actually turned it in, it was accepted, and it was published.

      I've had the high school dream too, several times. The usual premise (and I think Adam Sandler made a movie of it) is that the student's records were lost, and so the student must go back to get a legitimate diploma. In my dream, the part of my brain that contained all the knowledge I'd gained since grade school was lost. I find myself sitting in a classroom where I am clearly older than my classmates, and they treat me with kindness and respect, but there's a sort of "don't ask, don't tell" mixed with the pall of prior tragedy about which little is known by them or me, and an undercurrent of us all walking on egg shells to avoid setting me off.

    7. It's funny, but in one recurrent dream, my alma mater would revoke my degree and call me to let me know. I would then argue on the phone that at that point, due to my actual work experience in the field, the degree no longer matters. I'm actually quite confident (I would say that "I'm established", "have my own work experience" and that the degree is "irrelevant" or "no longer relevant").

      I do not dream of this often, but I had this dream more than once. Since my field of study is translation and, naturally, people don't even enter the program without already having some skills such as knowing the languages in question, a student can easily get the impression that he or she is already qualified long before graduation. It's hard to know when exactly the skills have become sufficient.

    8. The issue of knowing when one's own skills have become sufficient was examined in Dunning and Kruger's seminal paper, Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments (APA, 1999).

      I agree that for some positions, a certain work history is more than enough to secure employment. When an employer is reviewing a job candidate's training, credentials, and work history, they are trying to judge whether the candidate has not only procedural skills that the job requires, but also habits of mind to adapt to new challenges as the job evolves. A degree is a form of work history in addition to being a credential of training that also speaks to the issue of habits of mind. The employer has discretion to weigh all these matters against one another.

      When someone fakes their work history or degree, it calls into question whether their experience and/or training are truly sufficient for the position. But the fraud also reveals a habit of mind that may render its possessor unfit for their position, and the employer has discretion to weigh that, too.

    9. It stated that the credentials of the people that were listed were not verified. (What a way to instill confidence in prospective students....)

      I know *I* would have felt confident even as a current employee. NOT.

    10. OPH:

      That is indeed what happened. I don't know of anyone who approved of such a disclaimer being printed or had a higher morale after reading it. In fact, we questioned the sanity of whoever was behind it.

    11. Our institution is moving in the opposite direction: not only do we write and update our own faculty bios (including listed educational qualifications, publications, etc.), but the legions (now c. 30% of the full-time faculty) of contingent faculty have the modifier "contract" that is officially part of our title lopped off on the departmental web site (so, while I'm officially a Contract Associate Professor, on the website I'm simply an Associate Professor, indistinguishable, except perhaps by the length and depth of my publications list, from my tenured colleagues). This not only instills confidence in students (and parents) by hiding just how many of the faculty are badly-overworked full-time contingents (though the fact that we each teach 4 sections/semester does show up); it makes it harder for contingents from different departments to identify each other (though one can, as mentioned, pick out the full-time contingents by looking for those with heavier teaching loads; sorting the excel file containing publicly-available salary data by salary, lowest first, is also a very effective way to group the majority of the contingent faculty together).

    12. CC:

      My former employer viewed the teaching staff as an expense to be eliminated. The course outlines and material were to be so diluted that the institution could have hired anybody off the street to teach it.

    13. QWV: that appears to be the dream of all too many administrators today. Exactly what they think a university is for, I'm not quite sure. Well, actually, I have an idea: something along the lines of serving the community -- especially taxpayers/the business community, which they tend to see as one and the same -- through research is the official line. Still, I have the sneaking suspicion that most of the "customers," including not only students and parents but also taxpayers/the business community, think that educating students is, or should be, the primary mission of the university. Of course, research and teaching need not be competing goods (and I'm pretty sure that the institutions who come out of the ongoing shake-up in good shape will be those who manage to connect the two in ways other than using students as cash cows/cheap labor to support the research mission of the university), but they certainly tend to look that way to people who spend much of their time analyzing spreadsheets.

    14. And institutions are whiches, not whos. My typing and/or grammar continue to deteriorate.

    15. CC:

      I don't think the "customers" believe post-secondary institutions exist for education but purely for the production of job-ticket credentials.

      I remember being told by a departmental administrator not to worry about how well my students learned the material but only that they knew enough to get a "good" job. It was his contention that their future employers will teach them what they needed to know.

      With such low requirements for graduation, who needs teaching staff who are highly qualified by virtue of education and/or experience?

  3. I'm all for students and parents who are paying at least part of the tuition bill working out some reasonable level of communication about grades (sharing of final grades at the end of the semester seems like about the right interval to me, unless the student has been having serious trouble; whatever the interval, any conversation that follows should be about general patterns -- in other words, no nit-picking about As vs. Bs, let alone As vs. A-s, but a general pattern of Cs and Ds in courses in the chosen major might be worth a discussion). But as a college professor I don't expect to be involved in that communication; if a student is doing so badly that (s)he needs regular monitoring to stay on track, that's probably a sign that a hiatus from school to work on life skills would be the best approach.

    FERPA has undoubtedly evolved since my day, but my memory is that we had an opt-out system: the school sent final grades to a parent or guardian *unless* the student signed a form asking that that not be done (in which case the school sent a letter saying that the student had declined to release grades to the parent or guardian; one friend who was an de facto orphan -- one parent dead, the other severely mentally disabled and noncustodial for many years -- and whose guardians, who were genuinely supportive in other ways, had declined to take any financial responsibility for college, had to jump through quite a few hoops to convince the powers that were that it was not appropriate to send this letter to her (erstwhile, since she was 18) guardians). In those days of snail mail, what actually happened was that the school sent my final grades to my home address (whether addressed to me or to my father I don't remember); I, home for vacation by the time they arrived, opened the envelope, then shared them with my father. We may have had some conversation on the subject at the time, but if so, it wasn't much (then again, my grades were pretty satisfactory, though by no means straight As). I did warn my father after first-semester exams that I might have failed calculus; as it turned out, that was a false alarm, since I (barely) passed (it's still the lowest grade on my undergrad transcript, and shows up first on the list, since Calculus comes before Chemistry and whatever else I took in the alphabet). Even if I had failed, it wouldn't have been a disaster, since I was planning to take a heavier-than-required load the next semester (which, come to think of it, might have required special permission if I had failed, but I suspect I would have gotten it, since the 2nd-semester schedule was better tailored to my strengths).

    My father and I were pretty close at the time, but not at all in the joined-at-the-telephone way that many of today's students are. As the Registrar interviewed for the column points out, that makes it all the stranger that parents don't know more about how students are doing in school (not necessarily exact grades, but at least a general sense of how things are going). Or maybe it isn't so surprising, since, as many of us have noted here, students seem to have difficulty understanding (or maybe, according to the columnist, are unwilling to take the time to understand) the pretty specific information about grading we supply. As with many things, I'm guessing that various patterns formed during the students' K-12 years are carrying over into the college years -- and apparently, in this case, the elimination of parents' daily access to grades from the system seriously disrupts the pattern. If anything, that's an argument for parents' getting progressively less grade information (or paying progressively less attention to the information they do get/can access) during the high school years.

  4. Maybe I am not reading the law correctly, but, at least for "younger" students, parents will most likely get to see grade (and other information) if they choose. Most students that I know still live at home (officially) during breaks/summers/etc., and are still legally dependents (for tax purposes). FERPA allows parents to get grades and other info if this is true:

    The rights under FERPA transfer from the parents to the student, once the student turns 18 years old or enters a postsecondary institution at any age. However, although the rights under FERPA have now transferred to the student, a school may disclose information from an "eligible student's" education records to the parents of the student, without the student's consent, if the student is a dependent for tax purposes. Neither the age of the student nor the parent's status as a custodial parent is relevant. If a student is claimed as a dependent by either parent for tax purposes, then either parent may have access under this provision. (34 CFR § 99.31(a)(8).)

    1. Keyword is MAY.

      I think you are reading it correctly but over-interpreting slightly. For instance, your last phrase should have been written, "either parent may be afforded access under this provision," because you have glossed over that prior to the parent having access, the institution must grant it.

      It helps to think of it from the institutions viewpoint. If out of the blue I get a call from a parent and I disclose protected information without making sure it's OK to do so, maybe I violated FERPA, maybe not. If the child happens to be a dependent, which is more likely than not, then I'm in the clear. But the odds of a violation are significantly greater than zero, as are the penalties.

      Because of the first sentence in your second paragraph, the default is that parents do not have access to their child's grade data. To gain access, either the parent must prove to the institution that they are eligible for the exception, or the child must sign a waiver, and in either case the institution must agree (generally they've no reason not to, particularly in the latter case). Because of this extra rigmarole, the "most likely" of your first sentence is most likely an overestimate.

      Anecdotally, Parents Hep did not want to go through the rigmarole with Daughter Hep or her college. Instead, we periodically (like twice a semester) simply ask what she thinks of her performance, and she tells us as much as she wants us to know, which is enough for us.


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