It’s shocking to think that parents can pay anywhere from $10,000 to $60,000 a year to send their child to college and yet not have the right to find out how their kid is doing in school. But that’s the law.
There’s largely no such thing as back-to-school nights or parent-teacher conferences at colleges because the federal government apparently needs to protect wide-eyed young students from their concerned parents.
“Under the 1974 Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or Ferpa, professors cannot speak about the academic performance of any college student without the student’s prior consent,” notes John J. Miller in the Wall Street Journal, adding that because of the law, professors are also “forbidden to discuss grades with prospective employers. We’re banned from describing classroom habits with potential internship sponsors. And we can’t review test scores with moms and dads. It doesn’t matter who pays the tuition.”
The end result does a disservice to both students and parents. Consider the benefits at a college that does allow such interaction.
“My school is different: Hillsdale College refuses to accept federal aid so it doesn’t have to comply with Ferpa. We also see parents as partners. Meeting them serves the interests of our students and makes me a better professor,” explains Miller, a journalism professor at the small, private liberal-arts university in southern Michigan.
He goes on to describe how he will spend today – meeting with parents in 10-minute intervals at Hillsdale’s annual Parents Weekend:
Think of it like speed dating, except that I’ll hand out syllabi rather than phone numbers, though I’ll hand out those as well, in case parents ever want to call me. I’ll also describe my courses and explain what I hope to achieve. …
After we go over classroom performance, the conversation usually opens up. We discuss the interests and aptitudes of students and what these may suggest about vocations and careers. For a small liberal-arts college like mine, where we not only brag about small professor-student ratios but also believe in their value, these sorts of interactions are an important part of how we accomplish our mission. …
Last year, I met the parents of a promising senior. They told me something that triggered a thought. So I called a professional acquaintance and urged him to meet the student over Christmas break. Today, she is working for him. If Ferpa had regulated parent-teacher conversations on my campus, the encounter that made her current success possible probably would not have happened.
Many of my students grumble about parent-teacher conferences, thinking that they hark back to coddling in elementary school. This is an understandable frustration. At college, students want to taste the freedoms of adulthood, and perhaps even escape the clutches of “helicopter parents” who still think they should sign homework slips.
Yet the occasional overbearing parent is much better than an ever-present nanny state that tries to dictate the relationships between professors and parents from the remote precincts of the Education Department.