Law gives military recruiters access to student records

Eliott Baker has become something of an expert on the Solomon Amendment, largely because his job as executive director of academic records at Slippery Rock University requires him to be.

Registrars, admissions officers and others who deal with student records have to thread a path between the requirements of the law and the requirements of other federal regulations regarding student privacy.

The Solomon Amendment, the law that gives military recruiters access to campuses and to certain types of student information, is a compliance mandate affecting all institutions that participate in federal student aid programs.

Though law schools have led most of the legal challenges to it, colleges and universities all must comply with the Solomon act in order to preserve federal funding.

"Our primary interaction with recruiters is twofold," said Baker. "The first is access to campus -- they want to come to campus to recruit and be able to have ROTC units on campus."

Under Solomon, institutions cannot prohibit ROTC, and they can't deny access to Army recruiters that is given to other recruiters. In that respect they must treat the armed services like any other employer.

In the second area, however, they are treated differently, Baker said.

"That is the releasing of student recruiting information," said Baker. "This is information that institutions are not required to give to others -- they are not prohibited from doing so, but they are not required to."

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act governs the release of such information in general, Baker said. "That's much broader, that's been in place for 20 years. That protects the students' rights to privacy. It tells us what we can release, and says that we can only release what's called 'directory information' without the student's written permission. Every college has an option of releasing it or not releasing it under FERPA."

Except with military recruiters. The Solomon Act requires institutions to turn over certain categories of such directory information to them.

"Since Solomon passed, we must release this eight or nine pieces of directory information. We could turn another organization down."

Those types of information are: name of student; student's address, local or permanent; student's phone number, local or permanent; age and/or date of birth; place of birth ("If we know it -- we are not required to get that information," said Baker); class level (freshman, sophomore, graduate etc.); academic major; degrees the student has received; student's most recent educational institutional enrollment before current institution.

"You'll note race, religion and gender are not included," said Baker. "They cannot say, 'Please give me all the minorities, or the veterans.' And we can only release information on students 17 and older who are registered for at least one credit."

Baker, who has given presentations on the Solomon act for several years at annual meetings of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, said that members have been told to continue "business as usual" in face of the litigation and upcoming Supreme Court hearing of Solomon Amendment challenges.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005 By Lillian Thomas, © Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
(Lillian Thomas can be reached at lthomas@post-gazette.com or at 412-263-3566.)

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