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
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
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
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
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.