Records maintained by educational institutions are little understood and often overlooked. Long the bastion of student journalists, school-based records are often erroneously believed to be completely off limits due to student privacy restrictions. While it is true that more and more colleges are brokering degree verification through the National Student Clearinghouse (which requires a student release in most instances) and student transcripts are generally private, there are a number of education-related records that are available upon request. These records include:
- Building inspection reports (is my dorm safe/did the people who built the dorms do a good job?)
- Cafeteria and food service records (why is the dorm food so awful/is the contractor serving the dorm food following appropriate food safety protocols?)
- Campus crime records under the Clery Act (Much more on the Clery Act from this Department of Education Handbook. And, for a lot more on the types of records universities keep on crime, check this resource guide.)
Also note that records requests are not necessarily limited by whether the institution that possesses them is public or private. College accreditation reports, for instance, are available for any university that accepts federal student aid. And, many athletic department records (e.g., student athlete graduation rates, AD budgets) are available under the Student Right to Know Act which contains if-you-take-federal aid- you-have-to-turn-over the records stipulations. To sum up: The most access will be granted at a public university but private institutions that accept federal grant money are also covered (albeit less universally) by certain freedom of information release requirements.
For a lot more information on this subject check with the Student Press Law Center. The Center's site contains a number of tutorials on accessing records inside education world along with sample request letters.