Becoming a college parent for the first time brings a number of new things.  New language, new customers and even new legal rights for your student.  One of our purposes is to help college families avoid surprises. So this post aims to clarify some of the most common topics.

For most of your college student’s life you, as a guardian, have had not only the responsibility for your child but also certain rights.  College and becoming an adult at eighteen are the first times when college students are considered adults under the law and parents’ rights to information are restricted.

It helps to understand two federal laws: HIPAA and FERPA.

Health Records
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) protects the privacy of medical records. As soon as your child turns 18, you no longer have access to their medical information even if they’re still covered by your health insurance.

This means that your student’s visits to the college health and counseling centers — or the family doctor back home — are confidential and, in the case of a serious new or ongoing health issue, you won’t be able to join the conversation unless invited by your student.

This also means that, if there is an accident or health emergency and your student is hospitalized, medical personnel will not be able to consult with you without your student’s consent.

There’s a simple form your student can complete which permits health-care providers to share information with you or include you in conversations. Generic HIPAA authorization forms can be found online; your doctor’s office may have one as well or there may be one on the college website. If your student goes to school out of state, it is a good idea to fill one out both for that state and your home state.

These forms do not need to be notarized and typically include a section where the student can specify what kinds of information they don’t want to be disclosed (for example, about mental health, sexual health, etc.). Both you and your student should keep hard copies and store scans on your computer or smartphone.

EMERGENCY ROOM EXCEPTIONS: The safety and care of a patient are paramount so in the E.R., HIPAA restrictions may not apply if a patient is unable to communicate, doctors can use their own judgment about sharing information with family members who are present. A phone call to the E.R. will probably be received differently — the person answering may not be able to confirm for you that your student is a patient at the hospital.

Educational Records
Parents do not have automatic access to their student’s grades in college. For some people this isn’t it a big deal, but for other parents (who may be footing the entire tuition bill) it doesn’t feel right.

Wherever you fall, there are ways to navigate the challenges of FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act which gives parents control of their children’s educational records and transfers that control to students when they turn 18 or go to college. Educational records include grades, transcripts, course schedules, student financial information, and disciplinary records.

A good place to start is by making a plan with your student (early in the school year if possible). Would you like your student to tell you their grades? Do you actually want to see the grades?

If your student wants to let you see their grades, they can fill out a “Student Information Release Authorization” — which we provide a sample of on the College Parents of America homepage.  In addition, many schools also maintain a link to this form on their website. There may also be an option to add this access to your parental login to their student account (which you may already be using to view the tuition statement).

Alternatively, if your student is a dependent for tax purposes, the college may disclose these records to you with or without your student’s consent. If this is an option, you will need to provide evidence of your student’s status; steps to follow will be on the Registrar’s page.

At any time a college is allowed under FERPA to contact parents of students under the age of 21 who violate laws or policies relating to drug possession or underage drinking, and schools are permitted to disclose information from a student’s records in case of a safety or health emergency.