Educational verification should be a public record

The recent resignation of David Edmondson, chief executive officer of Radio Shack, for falsifying his educational record is a good example of why educational records should be publicly available. New Federal regulations require the consent of the supposed degree holder before verification. This protects people who fraudulently claim degrees they never received. It also damages the reputations of schools from which degrees are falsely claimed. It makes no sense.

I am often called upon to conduct background investigations of potential business partners, senior level executives, adverse witnesses in complex litigation, and others. Verifying someone’s educational record is an important component to such investigations.

In recent years, access to this basic data about an individual’s educational record has become severely restricted due to FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act), a law that applies to “all schools that receive funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education.” Among other things, FERPA requires an individual provide consent in order to verify his/her educational degree(s) and it provides exceptions in very limited circumstances. Consent has always been required in order to obtain an official transcript, but never to simply verify whether someone received a degree.

Over 2,800 colleges – accounting for over 91 percent of U.S. college students – now participate in the National Student Clearinghouse, a non-profit organization that provides degree verification services. It requires consent for every verification request despite the fact the FERPA permits limited disclosure of “directory” information (i.e., student’s name, address, telephone number, date and place of birth, honors and awards, and dates of attendance) without consent, so long as the student has been notified and given the opportunity to “opt out.”

If someone claims a degree from a school, it should be a matter of public record whether the degree was in fact granted and its disclosure should not be subject to whether the individual wishes to allow this information to be made available. Access to this type of information is critical to many investigations and helps people and companies protect themselves from a wide array of possible threats. In many investigations, it is neither feasible nor appropriate to obtain consent to verify someone’s educational degree(s), nor should it be.

FERPA should be changed to permit the disclosure of such basic information without consent.

Charles Pinck is the Senior Vice President, Investigations for GlobalOptions, Inc.

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