IATF Parental Notification

The notification of parents by higher education institutions of a student's conduct has been controversial since the original passage in 1974 of The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, more commonly known as FERPA. The Congressional revisions in the Fall of 1998 to FERPA has added fuel to this heated debate. Specifically, the revisions permit schools to notify parents of students who are under the age of 21 if such students have been found responsible for violating institutional policies regarding alcohol and other drugs.

In July of 2000, the Department of Education clarified some of the 1998 revisions. The Department's rules give higher education broad latitude in notifying parents of students under the age of 21 regarding violation of alcohol and other drug policies. Specifically, the rules clearly state that colleges and universities do not have to hold disciplinary hearings before contacting parents. Schools are free to determine their own process for parental notification and are not required to alert students that their parents have been notified. However, a record of such activity needs to be kept in the student's file and released to them at their request. Please refer to the July 6 Federal Register for additional information.

This report is concerned solely with providing the higher education community with some guidelines relative to parental notification of violations by students of alcohol or other drugs. The Inter-Association Task Force takes no position on whether a school should incorporate parental notification into their procedures.

Recent studies are suggesting that working with parents rather than the student alone regarding transition difficulties are helpful (Wintre and Sugar, 2000). Higher Education is presently being confronted by parents asking for more information. Graham B. Spanier, president of The Pennsylvania State University, recently stated "we do not want to make [students] more childlike. But parents are constantly contacting us asking what is going on with their kids. They want in loco parentis" This decision is an institutional one requiring discussion with community members of what may work best for each schools unique background. The Task Force does caution each college or university to very deliberately debate the pros and cons of this issue and to carefully select the right course for their school. Faculty, staff, and students should be involved in this discussion prior to any major change involving parental notification. This debate should not only be one of what is practical but also of the logistics in expanding parental notification and involve a philosophical discourse which should be be viewed in the larger context of the changing nature of higher education in this new millennium.

It is clear from colleagues that have adopted a more aggressive parental notification plan that the amount of time necessary to successfully implement such a plan is extensive. Regardless if you use letters, phone calls, or a combination, a good deal of staff energies will be spent in not only the initial contact but handling parent phone calls seeking additional information or the desire to provide their own input. Senior administrators need to be prepared to understand and support the plan as they can expect an increase of calls as parents "go up the chain of command". At the end of this report the Task Force has listed several schools, including both private and public, that have recently adopted a more involved parental notification program. We encourage you to contact the individuals listed for more detailed feedback than we are able to provide here.

Some colleges and universities have adopted and implemented a parental notification policy, others have made a decision not to do so, and others are still debating this issue. Unfortunately, at the start of the 2000/2001 academic year little data has been collected on this important issue. However, a survey in the Spring of 2000 was jointly conducted by the Association for Student Judicial Affairs' (ASJA) Model Policy Committee and the doctoral program in Higher Education at Bowling Green State University.* This survey was distributed to ASJA members representing approximately 600 schools. The survey was returned by approximately 200 institutions. The findings suggest that the majority of schools are in fact adopting a more aggressive plan of parental notification. Approximately 59% of respondents indicated they had policies or practices in place to notify parents and additional 25% of respondents indicated that they were actively considering the adoption of such policies. Only approximately 16% of the respondent institutions had no policy and were not considering one. Certainly, additional future research is needed to assist the higher education community in responding to this difficult issue.

It is clear that there is an unacceptable high rate of alcohol consumption resulting in numerous problems among a minority of traditional aged (18 - 22) students. All of the research on alcohol problems decries the "quick fix" solution. Is parental notification a "quick fix" or a reasonable part of a total alcohol misuse prevention program on a college or university campus?

The following are some items to consider when discussing parental notification:


  • The goals of parental notification for your school should be clearly articulated before implementation. All community members should be made aware of these goals.
  • Parental notification not occur until the student's avenues of appeal have been exhausted, except with cases where lengthy appeal delays may uncessessarily prevent timely notification.
  • When possible, students should be notified that a parent will be called and notified of an alcohol violation. Students should be given the opportunity, and encouraged, to discuss the situation with their parent prior to the school's notification.
  • When discussing violations utilize terms such as "was found responsible for violations of the schools code of conduct" instead of " found quility of crime X".
  • If an institution choses not to implement parental notification they need to be prepared to respond to parents questions regarding that position. In-part that response needs to include the school's resources that are committed to assist the student with alcohol and other drug issues.
  • When informing the campus community and parents it needs to be clearly stated that parental notification includes only violations of alcohol and other drugs, with the exception of life threatening situations.
  • Involve keys members of the campus community, including students, when contemplating a change in parent notification procedures.
  • Parental notification, if adopted, should be only one of several approaches attempting to deter student misbehavior. A comprehensive approach needs to be utilized involving education and intervention.
  • Schools should not assume that all students under the age of 21 are dependant students. Develop a method that allows the student to declare his/her status.
  • Be prepared to make exceptions. Certain situations involving the student's personal relationship with or the current status of a parent (e.g. abused childhood, parent recovering from surgery) may preclude a parental notification.
  • Special consideration may be needed for intertnational students. Some students may not have traditional family backgrounds or parents that are easily accessible. For example, international students may have a person other than a parent in the U.S. that should be the contact person. Attention should be given to a student's particular culture and whether parental notification might cause that student undue hardship.

Items that need to be reviewed

  • Is parental notification consistent with the institution's mission statement?
  • Will parental notification be an effective tool to use at your institution in assisting students?
  • Does parental notification uncessarily interfere philosphically with your school's position on a students right to privacy?
  • Does your school have the appropriate staff and other resources to make and respond to parent calls? If not, is the institution prepared to provide the resources necessary to respond to the needs of an expanded parental notification program? If resources are redirected from other priorities what is the cost of such a move?
  • How will parental notification change the nature of relationships between the professional staff and peer leaders (e.g. Resident Assistants, Health Advocates) with the student?

Below are listed some pros and cons for your perusal. The Task Force does not necessarily agree or disagree with what is listed. However, it may provide some "talking points" for your discussion. We thank the University of Minnesota for sharing with us most of the following which they developed from a committee formed to discuss the recent FERPA amendments.

  • Pros (in favor of expanding parental notification)
    • Reporting is a proactive step that would increase support from parents.
    • Utilizing parental notification could reduce the abuse of alcohol.
    • Reporting could increase involvement of parents in student-related problems.
    • Reporting assists the school in proactively notifying parents of problems that later may become much worse.
    • Reporting would send the message to students and the community the institution takes this issue seriously.
    • Implementing this policy now may prevent future, more undesirable intrusions by outside groups. The new FERPA amendments reflect powerful trends in the larger society. Disregrarding them may bring harsher measures later.
    • Engaging in a dialogue with parents will afford the school's staff to acquire additional information about an at-risk student which allows the staff to better respond to the student's issues.
    • Reporting to parents can potentially save some students from traumatic consequences later.
    • Parental notification helps parents be "parents".

  • Cons (opposed to parental notification)
    • Logistical problems with how and when to get the information out.
    • Reporting is contrary to student development theory.
    • Students who are 18 - 21 should be treated as adults.
    • Reporting may unnecessarily interrupt a student's educational progress.
    • Schools already have the right to implement parental notification for life-threatening situations. And arrests are already public information.
    • Reporting would treat a subset of students differently. Students in residence halls would be disproportionately at risk for being reported.
    • Reporting could change the character/focus of Resident Assistants and other peer leaders.
    • Not enough data to suggest that parental notification is effective.
    • Parental notification would be an expensive program and might take away resources from other priorities.
    • Parental notification is a simplistic response to a very complex issue.
    • Reporting would change the relationship between the student and faculty/staff.


For further information concerning this document and the issue of parental notification please contact one of the following authors:

  • Richard E. Stegman
    Dean of Students
    Roger Williams University
    One Old Ferry Road
    Bristol, RI 02809
    (401) 254-3093

  • Nancy Schulte
    Drug Education Center
    George Mason University
    SUBI Rm. 252D
    Fairfax, VA 22030
    (703) 993-3686

  • Jim Rothenberger
    Morse Distinguished Teaching Instructor of Public Health
    University of Minnesota
    1300 S. Second St., Suite 300
    Minneapolis, MN 55454
    (612) 625-5692

Collegial Resources

The following individuals have experience on their campuses with the issue of parental notification. If you wish to explore this issue in more detail than this brochure permits contact one of your colleagues listed below.

  • Karen Boyd
    Sr. Associate Dean of Students
    Georgia Institute of Technology
    Atlanta, GA 30332
    [email protected]

  • Lynn Willett
    Vice President for Student Affairs
    Bridgewater State College
    Bridgewater, MA 02325
    [email protected]

  • Pat Cordner
    Director of Judicial Affairs
    SUNY Cortland
    Cortland, NY 13045
    [email protected]

  • William Fischer
    Assoc. Director of Student Life/Judicial Programs
    University of New Hampshire
    Durham, NH 03824
    [email protected]

  • Brent Paterson
    Dean of Student Life
    Texas A & M University
    College Station, TX 77843
    [email protected]

  • David Parrott
    Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs
    Western Michigan University
    Kalamazo, MI 49008
    [email protected]

  • Joe Puzycki
    Director of Judicial Affairs
    Penn State University
    University Park, PA 16802
    [email protected]

  • Felice Dublon
    Vice President and Dean of Students
    School of the Art Institute of Chicago
    Chicago, IL 60603
    [email protected]

  • Tony Esposito
    Asst. Dean; Residence Life/Judicial
    Bridgewater State College
    Bridgewater, MA 02325
    [email protected]

  • Linda Timm
    Vice President for Student Affairs
    Saint Mary’s College
    Notre Dame, IN 46556
    [email protected]


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