College Parent Portal: Not Necessarily An Open Door for Everyone

Many elementary, middle and high schools today use a Parent Portal of some sort to help parents stay abreast of their student’s progress and activities.  Parents are encouraged to stay involved and to check the Portal every day.  Portals often provide information about school activities, attendance information, homework assignments, and student grades.  Parents can also use the portal to communicate with their student’s teachers, guidance counselors and even the school principal.

Is there a problem?

Schools use Parent Portal pages because they work.  They help maintain the connection and communication between students, school and parents.  Many colleges now have parent portal pages as well. So what’s the problem?

The problem is not with college Parent Portal pages, it is with parent expectations of those pages.  Parents who are used to automatic access to student attendance records, assignments, teacher communication and grades – and now for college financial billing information as well – are destined for disappointment.

College Parent Portal pages are a relatively new tool at many institutions, and they can be an important system for increasing communication with parents by allowing them access to certain academic and financial data.  Colleges and universities are increasingly recognizing families as part of the college community and they want to provide parents with resources to allow them to stay connected to the college campus.  But there are some important differences between college Parent Portals and what parents may have experienced during their student’s K-12 years.


Access to most college Parent Portal pages must be granted by the student.  Beyond some basic information about campus resources or activities, access to any personal student information must be granted by the individual student for specific family members.  At many schools, students may authorize multiple family members to have access – one or more parents, grandparents, guardians or even siblings.

According to the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act, once students reach college, access to their personal educational information belongs to them, not to parents.  Although during the elementary and high school years parents had access to all student records, they do not have that privilege at the college level unless a student signs a waiver granting them that right.  This is a new situation for most parents.

It is important that parents and their students discuss this new framework and discuss who will have access to information through a Parent Portal.  Students should remember that granting a parent access to this information (such as financial billing information) does not release the student from ultimate responsibility for adhering to deadlines or submitting required information.

Once students authorize a parent to have access to information, the system will usually generate an e-mail to the parent with log-in information.  They parent then logs in and creates a separate username and password.  Parent access differs from student access.

A student may change or rescind authorization at any time.

Level of information 

Generally, college Parent Portals contain basic information, but less than a high school portal might.  Parents may have access to information about campus activities, campus resources (so they can help their student find help if necessary), billing information, student schedule, student semester grades(but not individual assignments), and possibly a degree audit.  At many institutions, students may select which of the above information a parent may view.  So a student might, for instance, allow parents access to financial information but not grades.  Or a student might allow one person to see grades, but another family member to see billing information.

Parents should not expect to find access to attendance information, to specific class assignments or grades, or to faculty contact information.

A Parent Portal can be a convenient tool for students and parents.  If parents are responsible for paying tuition, for instance, they can have up-to-date billing information directly from the financial office.  Parents who are concerned about their student’s grades will have access to the information they may need to begin important conversations with their student.  Parents need to remember, however, that “ownership” of this information now belongs to their student – who may or may not choose to share it.

This provides yet another step in the letting go process for everyone.

Related Posts:

What FERPA Means for You and Your College Student

How’s My Student Doing? Sharing Your College Student’s Passwords

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