Who Owns the Record?

J. James Wager, Consultant & Education Strategist

September 28, 2017

What is the Educational Record?

Every academic institution has established methods to record data points about its students. These methods involve computer software called student information systems, learning management systems, and document imaging systems. There are hundreds, even thousands, of specific data points that are captured, stored, categorized, and reported. 

This data includes student personally identifiable information, admission and enrollment, courses and grades, course participation and attendance, adviser recommendations, and engagement with a wide range of student support services. The data points may represent discrete values, such as a course grade, or relational values, such as the applicability of a course fulfilling a degree requirement on a degree audit report. Other data points, such as class standing and cumulative grade-point-average, are computed based on events and other data values. 

The academic transcript is sometimes thought of as “the record”. In reality it is not, but rather just one report that is generated from the educational record.

Protection of the Record

Registrars are well aware of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. FERPA is one of the nation’s strongest privacy protection laws and provides both students and parents the right to review, affirm, and control the release of educational records. In addition, FERPA provides requirements the institution must follow regarding its custodial role of educational records. 

FERPA clearly establishes the right for a student to review their educational record and challenge possible incorrect data. But FERPA also provides authority to the institution regarding the timing and method by which the student may complete this review.  Through these stipulations, some institutions have concluded that they have no obligation to release the transcript directly to the student. Other institutions have concluded that any transcript release directly to the student will be “unofficial” or marked as “issued to student”. The general intent behind such thinking is the student may not further release the received transcript to other third parties; and that all third parties should receive the transcript directly from the issuing school.

From all of these requirements, it is logical to conclude that the educational record belongs to the institution.

Is it a new Era?

The history of transcript ownership is deep seated in the arguments above, but has the Academy entered a new era where certified electronic records and social media are both playing a significant role in the personal and professional lives of the 21st century learner? While the academic record in its entirety may belong to the school, the transcript – one report extracted from the academic record – can be considered an artifact belonging to the student. Other artifacts, such as certificates and diplomas, could be thought of in the same manner assuming that there is adequate electronic authentication protection attesting to the original source and accuracy of the documents.

Recently, the University of Michigan Office of Academic Innovation hosted 15 Registrars from AAU universities to examine the shortcomings of traditional transcripts, certificates, and diplomas and to discuss opportunities to better support students, schools, and employers. While no concrete conclusions were reached, the group did conclude to push forward with the development of enhanced credentialing tools.

Some social media platforms have begun to support the student’s ability to collectively store and selectively release documents to appropriate recipients, such as a potential employer. Sometimes referenced as the “student locker”, the idea is to move beyond a traditional resume and replace with a more interactive and verifiable collection of artifacts. 

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