The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA) is a federal law protecting the confidentiality of student education records. Generally, Dickinson faculty and staff may not disclose personally identifiable information from student education records without the student’s written consent. An exception to this is “directory information” as defined below, which can be disclosed without the student’s consent, unless the student has directed that such information not be disclosed by having a FERPA restriction placed on their student record.
Directory Information: "Directory information" means the student's name, college and permanent home address and telephone number, email address, a photograph, date of birth, dates of attendance, class, major field(s) of study, previous institutions attended, awards and honors (including honor roll), degrees conferred (including dates), and participation in officially recognized sports and activities, and height and weight of members of athletic teams.
The Letter of Recommendation or Reference form is a FERPA compliance requirement. The Personally Identifiable Information (PII) of a student is protected under the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). This includes but is not limited to: the student's schedule (including courses in which a student is enrolled currently or has completed), the grade for the course(s), and the student's GPA. This is not a new initiative; rather, it is part of the FERPA regulation. We comply with FERPA to protect our students and the college.
Any requests for letters of recommendation to include information beyond what is defined as directory information, or can be deemed as general statements that do not disclose protected data, must be requested in writing by the student.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Do I need to have a signed release?
If you are going to release any information beyond very generalized statements and what is included in directory information, yes. Please have the student complete the Letters of Recommendation or Reference Release Form.
- What may I release in a letter of recommendation?
If you do not have a signed Letters of Recommendation or Reference Release Form, then you may only release directory information for the student, and even then you must verify that the student has not requested a FERPA restriction to be placed on the student’s record.
- How are the letters stored/managed?
It is not mandatory that the Registrar's Office receive each letter; however, it is best practice for the letters to be included in a student's record. The Registrar's Office can file an electronic copy. Letters may be sent via email to firstname.lastname@example.org (PDF preferred). If a faculty member prefers not to send them to the Registrar's Office, they must maintain a copy of each letter in the event it is needed in the future.
- How do faculty members handle submission of electronic recommendation or reference forms?
Faculty members may complete online or electronic forms on behalf of a student as long as they have the written consent of the student to do so. While it is understandable that often it is not possible to provide a hard copy of the completed form to the Registrar's Office, it is best practice to keep a log of the recipient and date that information was released on behalf of a student. If the faculty member wants to send the information to The Registrar's Office regarding the release of information, it will be uploaded to the student's academic record.
- Can the student request a letter of recommendation electronically?
Yes, per legal counsel, the student may submit a signed Letters of Recommendation or Reference Release Form as an attachment to an email message as long as the message was sent from the students Dickinson email. If in doubt, you should contact the student by phone to verify.
- Can I send the letter of recommendation directly to a graduate school or employer?
Yes, if the student has completed the FERPA Release form indicating that information from student education records can be released directly to the graduate school/employer.
- Why can the student see my letter of recommendation?
Students have the right under FERPA to inspect their own records. Students may waive that right for letters of recommendation and should indicate any such waiver on the Letters of Recommendation or Reference Release Form.
- What if the student declines to waive the right to review my letter of recommendation?
You have the right to inform the student that it is not your practice to provide letters of recommendation unless the letters are confidential and you are able candidly to assess the student’s strengths as well as weaknesses.
- What if the student declines to submit a Letters of Recommendation or Reference Release Form? Must I still provide a recommendation or reference?
No, you may share with the student that you cannot provide a meaningful recommendation, or serve as a reference, if directory information and generalized statements are the only information you are permitted to disclose.
- What if I am asked for a reference and the student has not signed a Letters of Recommendation or Reference Release Form?
If the student has not signed a Letters of Recommendation or Reference Release Form, any requests for information about the student, even directory information, should be referred to The Registrar’s Office.
- What situations requires a release?
- Letters of Recommendation or Reference
- Graduate School Application Submissions
- Employment Forms
- Internship Opportunities
- Phone Calls
- Electronic Forms
- Are there any exclusions?
A consent form is not needed:
- The Center for Global Study and Education (CGSE): For letters written to or information released for Study Abroad Programs, consent is not needed because the student waives their rights as part of their initial process.
- The Dickinson Pre-Health Program: For letters written to or information released to the Committee for Health Professionals, consent is not needed because the student waives their rights as part of their initial process. Further, the consent that is signed also waives access to the Letters of Recommendation written to this committee.
- Dickinson Legitimate Education Use (Internal Release of Information): Consent is not needed when information is shared for Legitimate Educational Use within Dickinson College. This is a provision of FERPA.