Why I Didn’t Ask My College Student to Sign the FERPA Waiver

holding toddler hand

My daughter and I just returned from her freshman college orientation. We had a great, informative, jam-packed day and a half. She attended sessions. I attended different sessions. We texted each other important dates and reminders. She discovered more reasons why her college choice is really perfect for her, and I grew to love the city blocks and high rises of her new home away from home. We discussed financial aid, billing deadlines, schedules, dorm room needs, roommate concerns, and privacy. And from that discussion, the topic of the FERPA came up.


Don’t know what the FERPA is? Check out our FERPA Facts. The FERPA (Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act) and its waiver is a big topic between parents and students. Search any parents’ college forum, and you’ll find many posts from parents insisting their student sign the FERPA waiver for them, giving them rights to their university records.

Some parents aren’t even insisting. They’re demanding their students sign the waiver. “I’m paying for their college!” they post. “I should see their grades if I’m paying. What if they’re failing? It’s important I know!”

Stretching the Wings

During our orientation time, I explained to my daughter what the FERPA is, what the waiver does, and then said “that’s your choice, as an adult,” and dropped the subject. I didn’t ask her to sign it, and I won’t. Why, you ask?

The FERPA was designed to allow legal U.S. adults (people over the age of 18 years old) a right to the privacy of their records, a very hot topic these days. Keeping your private information safe is a 21st century necessity. And while I’m her parent, she’s no longer a child.

I’ve tried to raise a kid who is naturally curious. I got a kid who is independent and very private. I’ve learned the less I ask, the more she’ll share. She’s also a great organizer and has a distinct drive to succeed. I know I’m lucky. Moreover, she’s lucky. But even if she were a little tentative about college in general, or really laid back in regard to grades and career paths, I wouldn’t ask for her to give me rights to her information.

She’s an adult. I don’t have the right to demand anything of her. Deciding what she will and will not share is her decision. Period. It’s my job to let her do that with grace, and sit on my hands.

The Final Gift

Secondly, her father and I don’t view her college education as a transaction between us. I’m not paying for college as a way to control her, nor to create a dependence on me. Quite the opposite! I’m paying for her transition from my home to hers. Paying for her higher education doesn’t make me an equal in her future.

Do I want her to get good grades? Of course. But she needs to develop her own sense of consequences outside of what I can do to her, now that she’s 18. If she fails a class, she’ll have to figure out what to do about that. She gets four years of university and a certain amount of financial support. Anything else over that is on her.

Her education is a final gift between us. It’s getting her started. Just as I held her hand as a toddler, exploring safely, I’m helping her find stability and freedom as an adult. And her decisions concerning her privacy are her own, just as they should be with any adult, even if I’m paying the bills.

RELATED: What to Know When Your Child Turns 18

Besides, letting your adult child make the decision to include you in their educational path is much more rewarding this way. I would rather be asked my opinion, and watch her stretch her wings.

I don’t want to demand her obedience. Instead, I want to win her trust.

And if not now, when? When does a parent stop demanding their children’s lives be open books?

Exceptions To the Rule

If they are a dependent for tax purposes, and most students are, you have an automatic right to their records. Colleges and universities will also contact you if there’s legal issues surrounding alcohol or a controlled substance, or if their health and/or safety is at risk.

Final Grades Only

Also, here’s a bit of news, if you didn’t know. Even if you have rights to your student’s records, you will not see day-to-day grades. Nope. Sorry. The days of high school and seeing where they are at any given time is over. Universities are required only to show you final grades. So work on a positive communication flow now, before those final grades are posted.

Finally, I know everyone’s relationship and expectation for their students are different. My decisions aren’t for everyone. But I ask you this: What kind of reaction would you get if you said, simply, “here’s the information about what FERPA is, and I really want to demand you do this – every bone in my body wants to – but I trust you and respect your privacy. The decision is up to you.” Try it.

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