Northwestern to release enrollment incentive grant information

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Northwestern to release enrollment incentive grant information

Working with the City of Alva, Northwestern Oklahoma State University will make available the names of students who receive enrollment incentive grants funded by an Alva city sales tax. The University also will release the hometowns of those students, the nature of the award, and the dollar amount of the grant.

The incentive grants are funded by a one-half cent city sales tax that was overwhelmingly approved by voters in 1999.

Northwestern has been provided with the legal authority to do so by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), whose letter to Northwestern assures the institution that the release of this information will not violate the provisions of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). FERPA is a federal law that protects the privacy of students’ educational records.

“We are pleased that the Department of Education has provided us with a legal foundation that empowers us to provide student information to the City of Alva and others,” said Dr. Janet Cunningham, university president. “FERPA sometimes creates situations that make unclear the balance of public disclosure and student privacy.

“Our intention has always been to provide as much information as legally possible that ensures both the public interest and a student’s right to privacy. We are thankful that the Department of Education’s ruling allows us to provide this information and move forward.”

Since 1999, Northwestern had provided student information and individual dollar awards to the Alva City Council when presenting its invoices for payment. In May 2010, Northwestern was advised by its legal counsel that publically releasing such information could violate provisions of FERPA.

The following month, Cunningham asked legal counsel for the Regional University System of Oklahoma to seek a formal opinion from the DOE. That opinion was received Jan. 30, 2013.

According to the DOE opinion, Northwestern is allowed to classify the enrollment incentive grants as “honors and awards received,” information that is public as student directory information.

Northwestern plans to make changes to its directory information policy and implement the policy beginning with the fall semester of 2013, allowing ample time to inform students.

“The impact of the enrollment incentive grants to Northwestern and the business community of Alva cannot be overstated,” Cunningham said. “The grants have helped Northwestern achieve historic levels of enrollment, which in turn has boosted the revenues of retail and service-based businesses in Alva. It is a great economic success story for this community.”