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So I know there's roadblocks like FERPA (this is in the United States by the way), but if I already knew:

  • Full Name
  • Date of Birth
  • Name of school (obviously, since I'd have to know who to ask)
  • (Supposed) Major

Would a college/university be able to confirm or deny that the student is enrolled, since I'm only asking to have information I already know confirmed or denied, and not asking for any new information? If so, which office/department at a given school would I (generally) direct a question like this to?

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    So I know there's roadblocks like FERPA — One person's roadblock is another person's first line of defense against nosy people, stalkers, etc.
    – Mad Jack
    Commented Jul 11, 2015 at 22:14
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    Probably better to not be finding oneself wanting to do this. If the question is about what other people can do, the answer is "it's technical and ... it depends...". FERPA can give you a way to have your university not divulge your home address, phone (landline or cell), university email, and perhaps even whether you are now or ever were enrolled. But the default of FERPA (as in answers below) is typically that last registration term, current address, and current phone are publicly available, without any clearance or privileged info whatsoever. Maybe this will change in the future... Commented Jul 11, 2015 at 23:08
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    What is the context? If the student is applying to you in some way, you can ask them for a certificate.
    – Raphael
    Commented Jul 12, 2015 at 10:18
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    "since I'm […] not asking for any new information?" you don't know whether the person is enrolled. ergo, you are asking for new information. Commented Jul 12, 2015 at 11:03

4 Answers 4

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In the US, under FERPA, institutions of higher education (rules are different for K12 education) are required to define what pieces of information about a student are "directory information." This typically includes the name, address, and phone number of a student and may include other information such as the student's dates of attendance, major, and any degrees that the student has been awarded. The list of what items constitute directory information has to be made available to students, and students have the option of to keep this directory information confidential. Other more detailed information (such as courses taken, grades, class rank, etc.) is automatically confidential and can only be released after an explicit waiver from the student.

If a student has chosen to make their directory information confidential, then the university won't confirm or deny that the student has any connection to the institution. if the student hasn't opted for confidentiality, then the registrar's office will typically provide the directory information when asked.

There are good reasons for this protection. For example, consider the situation of a student who has been the victim of domestic violence and is hiding from an abusive family member. The abuser could call the university, talk them into providing the student's contact information and then use it to track down the student and harm the student in some way.

On the flip side, this confidentiality provision can cause problems with reference checks for former students. If a student chose confidentiality and years later an employer calls the university and asks "Did John Doe complete a BS degree at your institution?" The institution would have to say "We can neither confirm nor deny this."

In my experience, a fairly significant percentage of students (maybe 10 to 20%) at my institution opt for confidentiality of their directory information. Given the problems that this can cause with reference checking, I'm somewhat surprised by how many students opt for confidentiality.

In general, the office to ask would be the registrar's office. They regularly handle requests from people who are conducting reference checks and background investigations.

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    Interesting that you have seen 10-20% opt for confidentiality. In two years at my current institution, I don't think I have encountered a single "confidential" flag. It may have to do with local culture, and/or the way that the registrar's office explains this option to students. Commented Jul 12, 2015 at 0:12
  • I can't recall a recent class that I've taught that didn't have the confidential flag on at least one student. Most of the classes that I teach are quite small (15 or fewer.) Whenever anyone asks me for this kind of information I just pass them on the registrar's office. Commented Jul 12, 2015 at 3:24
  • If the student is not at the institution, then would they say the same thing? Otherwise, isn't it a dead give-away?
    – user541686
    Commented Jul 12, 2015 at 9:10
  • That's the point of "Can neither confirm nor deny..." answer. You can interpret this answer as "Either the person has not been a student or they have been a student but have opted for confidentiality." The other possibility is that the person has been a student and allowed for disclosure of directory information and in that case they provide the directory information. Commented Jul 12, 2015 at 12:31
  • @BrianBorchers: can students opt for confidentiality while they're studying (because for whatever reason they don't want their current address to be published) and then change their mind once they graduate (because they want reference checks to work for the rest of their life and the university won't publish their address once they've left)? If so then this might account for such a high rate as 10-20%: they have no current plans that require reference checks to work while they're studying and they are privacy-minded. Commented Jul 12, 2015 at 14:18
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Unless a student has specifically opted out, FERPA does not cover the information of whether a student is enrolled and the degree that they are seeking (including major). The exact circumstances under which a school might reveal that info would depend on the individual school's policy. See here for Penn State's explanation of this aspect of FERPA.

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Generically, no, a school should not be giving out that information if the person is not making it publicly available through directories, officially hosted webpages, etc. (By default such information is typically available).

Think about it this way: how can an administrator distinguish you from an abusive stalker who wants to confirm the location of their target?

If, on the other hand, you have a legitimate connection with the student, such as that they are applying for a job, then the student should be able to provide references whose connection with the school is clearly verifiable (e.g., their advisor) and who they can give explicit permission to confirm their status to you.

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    Actually, I believe FERPA allows schools to disclose "directory information" to anybody. This includes "dates of attendance" which I would think should include current enrollment status. Of course, just because the law allows them to tell you, does not mean they will. At my institution, students concerned about stalking, etc, can have a "confidential" flag set on their record, in which case the school will definitely not share directory information. Commented Jul 11, 2015 at 21:59
  • Corrected to make the default public status clear.
    – jakebeal
    Commented Jul 11, 2015 at 22:32
  • @NateEldredge FERPA gives students the option to make directory information confidential. By default, directory information can be released by the institution. If a student chooses confidentiality than the institution cannot release even directory information. Other information that is not "directory information" is confidential by default and can only be released with a specific waiver from the student. Commented Jul 11, 2015 at 23:52
  • @BrianBorchers: Thanks for clarifying. That matches my understanding. Commented Jul 12, 2015 at 0:09
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While it's got a few corner cases that make it unreliable in general - many if not, all universities have a predicable email address setup for each student (my former one is [email protected]). If you wanted to confirm a student with a name was at the college you would email that address and see if it bounced.

That's the hard way. If I had someone's name, date of birth and so on. I probably know them well enough to ask them...

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  • That's the thing. They've told me, to my face, in no uncertain terms that they attend this school. Problem is, I have reason to believe that this person is lying to me, and I'm trying to prove it. My goal is to not confront them and burn that bridge until I've made some attempt to quietly verify it directly with their institution.
    – user467236
    Commented Jul 13, 2015 at 21:45
  • Also, I did a Google search for "@[school_domain].edu" to get an idea of what the format is, and it appears they have a username generator of some kind that produces whatever mangled form of their name necessary to keep it free of numbers and punctuation, as well as keep it under a certain number of characters (compatibility w/ legacy UNIX system maybe?). This is a prestigious institution (not going to name it, but I'm sure any of you would know it if I did), and aside from inconsistencies in this person's story, quite frankly I just don't see them being the type to get admitted.
    – user467236
    Commented Jul 13, 2015 at 21:49
  • "whatever mangled form of their name necessary to keep it free of numbers and punctuation" what type of name do you have that numbers feature heavily? Ah, then I change my advise- there is NO point disproving a lair - it costs more than it gains - if it's obvious to you it's obvious to others. Best revenge is a life lived well.
    – Joe
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 13:53

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