Case name: Letter to: Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education (FPCO 07/12/12).

Ruling: The Family Policy Compliance Office concluded that records regarding tuition waivers maintained by a college or university’s enrollment services or bursar were protected from nonconsensual disclosures under the Family Policy Compliance Office. However, records maintained solely by the controller’s office as part of an institution’s payroll-withholding or tax-fling obligations were not protected under FERPA because they fell under the limited employment records exception.

What it means: Under FERPA’s limited employment records exception, an institution’s records are not considered “education records” if they (1) relate to an individual employed by an educational agency or institution; (2) are made and maintained in the normal course of business; (3) relate exclusively to the individual in that individual’s capacity as an employee; and (4) are not available for use for any other purposes.

Summary: The Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education’s general counsel sought advice from the FPCO regarding a possible conflict between the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and the state’s Access to Public Records Act.

The counsel explained that the board received a records request under state law from the Providence Journal, requesting information regarding tuition waivers granted by the University of Rhode Island to employees and nonemployees and their relatives.

After an investigation, the FPCO noted that it appeared that the payroll information was solely used for employment purposes, including payroll-withholding and tax-filing purposes.

The FPCO explained that if a person is employed because of his status as a student — as is the case with graduate assistants — then that individual’s records are education records under FERPA.

The FPCO concluded that FERPA protected the personally identifiable information from the tuition waivers granted to nonemployee students whose records were solely maintained in enrollment services/bursar offices because their tuition waivers directly related to them as students and were maintained solely as student tuition records.

The office also concluded that FERPA protected the personally identifiable information from the tuition waiver records granted to graduate assistants and employees (and their respective spouses, domestic partners and dependent children) that were maintained in the institution’s human resources offices and enrollment services/bursar offices because that information was directly related to students and the records were maintained by the board and its governed educational institutions.

However, the FPCO noted that payroll records of the subset of employees whose records were maintained in the institution’s controller’s offices as part of the institution’s payroll-withholding or tax-filing obligations were not protected under FERPA because they fell under the limited employment record exception.