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4.8 Distance and Correspondence Education

Federal Requirement:

4.8.2 An institution that offers distance or correspondence education has a written procedure for protecting the privacy of students enrolled in distance and correspodence education courses or programs (Distance and correspondence education)

Statement of Compliance:   In Compliance.

Narrative:

Distance Education students at the University of West Georgia include those who take online courses through the university as well as those who enroll in eCore, the WebMBA program, and the European Union Studies Program.  Students enrolling at the University or in any of the above mentioned programs follow the guidelines and procedures set forth by the University of West Georgia and supported in the University’s Acceptable Use Policy [1] and in its Information Technology Security Plan [2]. Compliance with the Federal Requirement 4.8 is informed by the SACS policy on "Distance and Correspondence Education" [3]. The institution no longer offers correspondence courses.

The University of West Georgia is committed to ensuring the privacy and personal information of all students, including those enrolled in all distance learning programs. The University of West Georgia does not actively share personal information gathered from distance education and/or resident students. However, in some cases, the University of West Georgia may be compelled by Open Records law to release information, as outlined in the Policies and Procedures for Responding to Open Records Requests [4].          

For students enrolled in distance and correspondence education courses or programs, the University of West Georgia complies with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, as Amended (FERPA) [5].  FERPA is a Federal law designed to protect the privacy of aspects of a student’s educational record that are not considered "directory" information, although directory information may be withheld if requested by the student in the non-disclosure form [6]. The Registrar’s Office is responsible for ensuring the provisions of this policy are enforced and serves as the point of contact for all FERPA related issues. All students (residential and distance education) are informed of their privacy rights through their respective Undergraduate and Graduate Catalogs [7], [8] and must complete the Consent for Release of Student Information [9] before any information is disclosed to designated individuals. Further information regarding student privacy is disseminated on the institutional website, during student orientations, via both print and online editions of the student handbook [10], and is publically available on the FERPA website [5]. If a student enrolled in a distance learning class believes that the University of West Georgia has failed to comply with FERPA requirements, he or she has the right to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education. Information about the process of filing a complaint can be found at the website of the Registrar's Office and are available for students and parents [11].

To ensure that faculty and staff understand and carry out the commitments to confidentiality, integrity, and security of student academic records, the UWG Online Faculty Development Team offers FERPA and student privacy training for all UWG Online staff [12]. UWG Online also requires its support team to review all federal guidelines and campus security policies, submitting forms documenting that they have read the guidelines and will abide by them. This process, along with the UWG Online’s Operating Manual for Support Team members is available at UWG Online Spot - "Operating Procedures" section [13]. Faculty have access to all of the FERPA information provided to students. Additionally, UWG Online offers a self-paced online FERPA training and refresher course.

eCore (electronic Core Curriculum) Administrative Services also requires its support team members to complete training on support protocols such as student confidentiality, including FERPA and HIPAA regulations (More information about eCore is provided in the report for Comprehensive Standard 3.4.7).  Support team personnel are required to sign an eCore Student Worker Employment Confidentiality Agreement [14] and a Worker Statement of Understanding of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act prior to beginning work [15].  A signed copy of the document is maintained in each worker’s personnel file.  Beginning Summer Semester 2012, each support team member, who is employed to work with at-risk students, must complete a training course that includes an online assessment and additional resources related to student privacy and FERPA regulations. As stated earlier, the Registrar’s office is ultimately responsible for ensuring the provisions of this standard though UWG Online monitors compliance for online faculty and courses.

The University of West Georgia utilizes Banner as the university-wide student information management system to store and manage electronic student information. Both Banner and any learning management systems (LMS) used to deliver distant instruction can only be accessed through unique usernames and secure passwords. In addition, the University of West Georgia has multiple processes and procedures in place to ensure protection of security, confidentiality, privacy, and integrity of its student records as outlined in the UWG Acceptable Use Policy [1], the UWG Information Technology Security Plan [2], and Comprehensive Standard 3.9.2 (Student records).

Supporting Documentation: