FAQ: Student Records Law

Student Records Law

Q: Are there any laws or U-M policies regarding student records?

A: Yes. The federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA or the “Buckley Amendment”) establishes rules and regulations regarding access to and disclosure of student records. Also, U-M maintains a student records policy found at:

Q: What is a student record under FERPA?

A: FERPA defines student record to include all records maintained by the institution that directly relate to a current or former student. FERPA’s broad definition of student record includes almost any medium you can think of, including written, electronic, video, audio, and photos.

There are a few exceptions that are not considered student records for FERPA purposes that include:

  • An administrator’s or faculty member’s own notes that are used only by that individual and are not shared with anyone else;
  • records that relate to the student as an employee;
  • medical, psychiatric or psychological treatment records not shared with U-M outside of a treatment context;
  • records containing only information about a student after graduation, such as development or alumni records; and
  • records maintained by the institution’s law enforcement unit that were created by that unit for the purpose of law enforcement.
Q: Under what circumstances may I disclose the contents of a student’s records without the student’s consent?

A: Generally, a college or university who receives federal funding cannot disclose student records to anyone other than the student (including the student’s parents), without the student’s written permission. However, FERPA does establish several exceptions that allow the institution to disclose student records without the student’s prior written consent. Some of those exceptions are:

  • To other U-M officials with a legitimate educational interest.
  • To officials of other schools in which the student seeks to enroll or transfer.
  • In connection with a student’s application for, or receipt of, financial aid.
  • If disclosure is necessary to protect the health or safety of the student or other persons.
  • In response to a lawfully issued subpoena. (Note: If you receive a subpoena requesting student records, you should notify the Office of the Vice President and General Counsel [OGC] and the Registrar’s Office immediately.)
  • Directory information as defined by the Student Rights and Student Records policy. You should always contact the OGC before releasing student records to a third party, even if you think one of these exceptions applies.
Q: Can a student obtain a copy of his or her own student records?

A: FERPA gives students the right to inspect and obtain a copy of their own educational records. The student may be charged a fee covering the cost of copying, but not the search or retrieval of the records.

Q: Does a student’s right to inspect and obtain a copy of his or her student records include letters of recommendation?

A: If a student voluntarily waives his or her right to inspection, the student can be denied the right to inspect letters of recommendation about the student.

Q: How long should student records be maintained?

A: U-M’s default retention policy is to retain records, including records for enrolled students (undergraduate and graduate) for seven (7) years after the individual separates from U-M*.  Some documents, however, may be subject to shorter or longer retention periods.  Below are a few examples and explanation as to when this might be the case.

  • Transcripts should be maintained indefinitely.
  • Undergraduate student application materials and final decisions related to those materials are generally maintained for seven (7) years; preliminary application review information for all students, as well as application materials for non-admitted or admitted but non-matriculating students are typically maintained for only one (1) year.
  • Academic units may make their own decisions about how long to keep student exams, records of dissertations, and other professional work. We recommend that the units check with the Bentley Historical Library to see if it has interest in this work for historical reasons.

* Separation from U-M includes graduation, dismissal, or voluntary withdrawal by the student.