A&A: Request for candidate’s college degree requires authorization?

A: I emailed a PRA request to a Cal State admissions office regarding a degree  granted to someone running for the local city council. I received the following reply:

“We have no problem complying, you will need to request this in written form. Provide us with the following information and pay the required fee $10.00. You will also need to present an authorization letter with signature from the [former student whose records you request]. The letter must contain the following information: Complete name SSN or CWID Where you want the degree or enrollment verification sent to. Please note it is one or the other, not both. If both, the cost will double. You will need to attach the letter of authorization to your request.”

Note: I am not requesting a transcript. I simply asked whether the candidate was granted a degree from the school and what the major was if any.

A: There are complicated federal and state regulations that apply to educational privacy (for example, the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)).  It seems that the school here may be basing its decision on FERPA.  You may want to ask the school for the specific law or regulation on which it is basing its policy of requiring that the candidate grant permission to release information related to his matriculation at the school.

This information might help you determine whether the school is entitled to refuse to provide records reflecting any degree awarded to the candidate without the candidate’s written authorization.

On the other hand, since this is a candidate for public office, and you are endeavoring to verify his educational background, it might be worth simply asking him if he would consent to the release of information related to the same, or to provide you with verification of some sort as to his degree.  If he did indeed graduate from the school, your request should be no problem.

Holme Roberts & Owen LLP is general counsel for the First Amendment Coalition and responds to FAC hotline inquiries. In responding to these inquiries, we can give general information regarding open government and speech issues but cannot provide specific legal advice or representation.