Academics & Grades in College

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How can a parent find out how their child is doing?

May 2011

Is it true that a parent can not find out how your son/daughter is doing in college, unless the child wants to share that info with you? If your child may be slacking off in college, how do you know? Do you just keep on paying for it in complete igmorance? anon

In my experience with UC Santa Cruz, they make it very clear that your child is a grown-up now and the university has a relationship with them, not you. They start telling you this at the orientations. I tried to help my daughter when she got a notice that she had a student loan which she didn't remember signing up for, and the outgoing message on the office voicemail was ''if you are a parent calling about your student, please hang up and have your student call''! I did learn all my daughter's login information, so that gives me access to her grades, financials, etc. She knows I have access and will even direct me to her account to check on things when we're working out tuition questions. While in there, I can check her grades. Where we had some issues was when she got very ill and was in the hospital and the university had no interest in letting me help her drop classes or get in other related paperwork. On the other hand, college is about growing up. She learned that you need to take care of business, which for a wonderful girl who is a little casual about business has been a good thing. hard but exciting to see them fly on their own

We went through this with one of our kids. If they wouldn't show us the report card, we didn't pay. Simple. One of my friends thought this was very unfair, but I never understood why. If college education is a joint venture (parents contributing the money, student contributing the studying), then the partners in this enterprise need to be open with each other about how it is going. All of our other investments give us reports on how they are doing, after all. We don't just send our money to Vanguard and hope things are going well.

Your son can keep his privacy, if he wants to foot the bill. Otherwise, this is the part of the price he pays for your financial assistance. Been down this road

In general, parents are not allowed access to student records unless the student signs an authorization. Here is some info for UC Berkeley: anon

Are you paying the bills? If so, your son needs to give you his PIN and password, so you can check grades online. We made this a condition of paying tuition, and my son who is attending community college doesn't mind. My other son went to Univ. Arizona and I had his PIN also to check grades, but in addition, at that school, the student could give permission for parents to receive notifications from the school. G.

The best way to handle this is before your son goes to college. You could be very straightforward and tell him that at the end of every semester/quarter, you want him to print out his grades and give you a copy.

If you feel you need it, another approach is that you could start by telling him that you'd like to be as helpful as possible when he starts college, and so if he is having trouble in a subject and he tells you, maybe you could give him some suggestions about where to turn. So you say that giving you a copy of his grades every semester is part of helping him see how things are going, and your being able to make suggestions (writing tutors available at the school)as to how he could improve.

Another way to do it is to ask for his school password so you could check grades online yourself. Then you just go in and check every semester.

If you have a difficult relationship with your child and feel he won't agree, then you have to set up conditions. You need to see his grades to make sure all is going well. If he won't give you a copy, then you'll stop _____ (giving him a monthly allowance, paying for his cell phone bill, or whatever works).

Hopefully your son will just agree. Anonymous

Yes I believe it is true you cannot have access to your college student's grades except through the student. But the solution is easy. You do not agree to pay for college unless they agree to give you that full disclosure of viewing their grades. Lynn

My son attended UC Davis and counseling offices are not allowed to share any information unless they have a signed consent form from the student. I would encourage you to discuss with your child to get that done. At least have a serious discussion with them to make sure they know what to do in the event that they start having trouble maintaining a C average (academic probation). This is when trust and communication with your child is truly put to the test! anon

Yes, it is true that a parent cannot check with the college about how their kid is doing. However, most class grades are posted online. If you are paying or helping to pay your kid's tuition ask him for his password or ask him to forward you his grades. If he refuses to do so, you can suspend your financial assistance. That's my deal with my kid. Seems only fair if you are helping to support your college-age kid. another parent of a college student

It is true that your student's grades are not made available to you in college unless the student signs a release form for that. I'm not sure all the schools are the same, but our oldest child's college does notify the parents if the student is failing.

So there is a conversation to be had. You could decide that you will require you son to sign that form in order to have you pay tuition for him. Or you could make it clear that you expect them to honestly report to you their grades. Either way, have a clear policy that if the grades are below a certain level over a certain period of time, you define that as ''not being ready'' or ''not putting in adequate effort'' and the tuition ceases and the child moves home again and gets a job, or whatever you think should be the consequence.

The legalities around privacy are just a small detail, really. The key is to have a clear and explicit understanding of how this exchange works: you are paying for college to allow your son the opportunity to achieve certain things, and if he does not, you will no longer support it.

With our eldest, we went for self-reported grades and she has done fine. With our younger, who starts in the fall, I think we will require that he signs the form and gives us access, since he is more prone to denial when problems arise.

Good luck to you both! Anne

Yes, it is true. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), a federal law, protects the privacy of students' educational records. No one can discuss a student's grade or any other aspect of his/her educational record with anyone other than that student - not even with his/her parents. Before talking with parents (or anyone) about any aspect of a student's educational record, the school must have the permission of the student in writing to release the requested information to that person.

Your college-attending young adult has a right to privacy. This law protects that right. As with so many things, we as parents purchase opportunity for our children - college being one example. How well our offspring take advantage of that opportunity is up to them. If you are concerned, you can either make a side agreement with your kid (such as they need to prove to you that they are maintaining a GPA of X for you to pay tuition for the following semester), or fund your child's education because it is the right thing for those who can afford it to do.

Think about it this way: Imagine you quit work to go back to school. Your spouse, the sole breadwinner now, is paying your schooling and living expenses. Does s/he have the right to see your transcripts each semester? (Not whether you would show them to him/her anyway: does s/he have the RIGHT to see them?) If you can't answer that with an unqualified rationale for yes, then you shouldn't be able to rationalize it for your offspring, either. Not a helicopter Mom - just a loving one

Here's what my daughter and I came to: I had her password and login for the colleges student web portal as we were working on all the stuff together in the beginning. I would periodically check in and see if there were any outstanding bills or whatever, and I could also access grades. The school (UCSC) would send me an email alert if there was something we needed to do for financial aid, which was helpful. I would then in turn, ask my daughter what they wanted. But the main thing was to enable her to be on the ball. We would talk over what needed to get done and how she might do it (aka coaching). Like now, she needs to GO INTO the financial aid office and actually TALK with someone!

As far as the grades, I stopped looking after a while. It gave her pleasure to tell me if she did well and we could celebrate together. If the grade wasn't so good we could talk about why. She knew if she failed a class she would have to take it again (god forbid!) and that translates into time and money now. I stopped being that concerned as it is HER education now. About the health part, she signed a form saying they can contact me if she got sick. It's about being open with your kid and also taking a step back. UCSC mom