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: