FERPA…HIPAA…What are Those?



Kaitlyn Tambasco, Assistant News Editor

When a student turns 18 years old or begins a postsecondary institution, the rights under FERPA transfer from the parents to the student.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), is “a federal law that affords parents the right to have access to their children’s education records, the right to seek to have the records amended, and the right to have some control over the disclosure of personally identifiable information from the education records,” according to the website student privacy.ed.

FERPA is higher education’s equivalent of Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), though the two are not the same. The purpose is to protect a student’s privacy with regard to the confidentiality of his/her educational records, said Kelly Adams, assistant vice president for advancement/marketing and communications.

“It’s important to note that FERPA is not the only law or recognition that protects student privacy,” Adams said. “Utica College, like most institutions, maintains its own policies and procedures related to student privacy; all college employers must comply with FERPA.”

HIPAA and FERPA were both designed to protect a person’s information, Adams said. Depending on the circumstances, student health records are covered by one of these statutes. There are, however, certain prescribed exceptions to these laws that may be applicable depending on the situation.

“Utica College takes its obligations surrounding the confidentiality of student, faculty and staff information very seriously and has protocols and procedures in place designed to protect its community’s confidential information,” Adams said.  “These protocols include a legal review relating to any information that may be potentially be considered confidential and/or subject to federal and/or state laws or regulations.”

Tim Ecklund, assistant vice president of Student Affairs & dean of Students and Campus Life, said there are many different types of records. Health records, student conduct records, counseling records and academic records all fall under FERPA and HIPAA. However, when it comes to an institution such as Utica College, students have the right to sign a waiver that allows the school to share things, such as health records and academic records, with their parents or guardians.

“Colleges function in absence of parents, as parents,” Ecklund said. “It is hard to pick up the FERPA and HIPAA policy, but we have to comply for educational purposes.”

If a parent called the school wondering where their student was, the school cannot legally give out their information, Ecklund said. What the school can do, is tell the student that the parent made the phone call and ask the student to contact them. If that does not work, then the school must ask the student if someone from the college can contact their parents to let them know they are okay. Ecklund does not recall an incident where a student did not allow the school to contact his or her parents.

Ecklund explained safety precautions and what the college can do and release in an emergency situation, such as a threat.

“If someone stole a computer from the lab in Gordon, we have different options,” Ecklund said. “If someone made another threat to the campus, then we would have to let everyone know because it impacts everyone’s safety.”

Ecklund said when some students ask why the school doesn’t release information about delicate situations, it can be very difficult to explain why. What the school is required to do and what it chooses to do are two different things.

“Decisions made based on the college’s reputation doesn’t happen,” Ecklund said. “We are more likely to get a bad reputation for not communicating.”