A New Threat to Student Privacy

How would you feel if everyone could see your college GPA? Students generally don’t need to worry thanks to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which prohibits schools from releasing a student’s information without their or their parents’ explicit permission. However, an exception to these regulations threatens student privacy.

Consider Emory University, for instance. Emory’s campus at Oxford College reveals the names of students whose GPAs range between 3.0 and 3.5 and is above 3.5. The former is for students who qualify for the Merit list, and the latter is for students who qualify for the Honors list. With the names publicly available online, anyone can effectively search for a name and find where they fall on the GPA spectrum. Worse yet, the list signals that all other students not on the list performed poorly over the course of the semester. This essentially grants the public the opportunity to attain records of what a student might want to remain private. But doesn’t this violate FERPA?

Sadly, it doesn’t. FERPA allows schools to disclose “directory information” of individuals who qualify for recognition lists, honor rolls or awards. FERPA defines “directory information” as

information contained in an education record of a student which would not generally be considered harmful or an invasion of privacy if disclosed. It includes, but is not limited to, the student’s name, address, telephone listing, date and place of birth, major field of study, participation in officially recognized activities and sports, weight and height of members of athletic teams, dates of attendance, degrees and awards received, and the most recent previous educational agency or institution attended.

Emory can technically get away with revealing this information but it shouldn’t. Emory must recognize that protecting its students’ grades means protecting their reputations. Students’ grades are their own business.

Alex Reibman

Alex Reibman is an intern at Minding the Campus.

3 thoughts on “A New Threat to Student Privacy

  1. The practice of having a Dean’s List for students with GPAs above a threshold is longstanding. Does the author think Dean’s Lists should be outlawed?

  2. “Students’ grades are their own business”. Really? Secrecy of performance doesn’t help anyone because performance will then be discounted, and poor proxies, such as race, ethnicity, and family background would be drawn upon as substitutes. Does anyone want that?

  3. What nonsense! This hardly a “new” threat. Schools and colleges have been publishing honor rolls for many, many decades. The federal government certainly has no business ordering private (or public) colleges to cease this practice of recognizing and rewarding excellence. And complaining that we might be hurting the feelings of other students by mentioning the names of honor roll students is the worst kind of self-esteem garbage.

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