By Vijay Krishna
Published : 28 April, 2021 | Last Modified : 24 May, 2021 | Resource
Compliance is definitely a great deal for most of the companies that handle money. If an online bank couldn’t follow certain rules to become a PCI compliant, they risk losing clients, a bad reputation, and mounds of paperwork to clean up the mess. However, compliance is not only a big deal for financial services. In fact, it is even more important for organizations in other industries, due to professionals’ lack of awareness towards it. Without having a thorough understanding of the industry-specific compliance regulations, there is a chance that you or one of your employees may be violating the rules.
Compliance is especially important for education institutes because even tiny and unintentional activities from employees can cause serious consequences that might result in a lawsuit. Think about this situation: you, as a school employee that handles student records, someday unintentionally leak a student’s GPA to your friends. According to Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), one of the most important privacy regulations in the education sector, you might face some serious civil lawsuits.
Read this guide carefully to help you understand the ins and outs of compliance in the education area.
The education sector has always been vulnerable to all kinds of data breaches, and that’s why our government sets up various mandatory regulations to help institutes protect their data. To help you understand the severity of information security issue in education institutes, below are three important facts that you need to keep in mind:
Knowing these facts, you should now be able to understand how important it is to comply with all the mandatory federal regulations in hope of avoiding unfavorable consequences and creating a secure environment for all sensitive and proprietary data in your institution.
However, compliance is never easy to work for most of the organizations. There are a lot of federal regulations and laws that educational organizations need to respond to, making compliance almost a headache for many institutes. In fact, meeting compliance standards (such as FERPA) ranks the third among all challenges that higher-education IT professionals have to face.
But don’t worry, every challenge could be broken down and accomplished through several steps. Below will be a brief introduction on some of the most important regulations in the education sector — with a focus on FERPA — followed by the consequences of non-compliance and a guidance on ensuring compliance in the education sector.
FERPA is one of the most important federal regulations in the education sector, aiming at protecting the privacy of students and their parents. FERPA requires that all institutions funded by the federal government under programs administered by the U.S. Department of Education comply with certain rules and procedures with regard to maintaining and disclosing the student’ educational records, including GPA, enrollment and even billing information. The act gives parents and students over 18 years old access to perspective educational records, the power of requiring amendments in these documents and also some control over the disclosure of information from the records. In most of the cases, the school must have the parent’s or the student’s consent before it releases the education records to any other third parties.
Failing to comply with FERPA can cause serious consequences. First of all, an educational institution that fails in FERPA compliance may forfeit its federal funding. What’s more, several states would also impose a monetary penalty on the Institute for the disclosure of the private information.
Secondly, given the fact that over 30% of security breaches in colleges are caused by unintended disclosure, the overlook of student privacy may result in serious information leakage that will potentially cause great financial loss and lawsuits.
Thirdly, failure in FERPA compliance can also have a negative influence on the reputation of the institute, which could further result in a loss of alumni donations and even a reduction in the number of students applying to or attending the institution.
All of these unfavorable consequences could be avoided by conducting internal employee education on FERPA and deploying a comprehensive IT solution to accomplish day-to-day monitoring and evaluation. Both of these initiatives would be talked about in details in the following part of this book.
As mentioned in Part 1, education institutions increasingly need to comply with many different federal and state regulations focused on data protection and privacy. To avoid the potential overlap of efforts in meeting these requirements, an institute could implement a university-wide IT compliance framework to ensure the compliance at a high level with various applicable federal and industry regulations including FERPA, HIPAA, FISMA, and others.
To help IT professionals develop the most suitable compliance deployment for institutions in different scales and with various demands, the Information and Communication Technologies department at New Mexico State University developed a five-layered IT compliance framework model in 2012 to provide educational organizations with a short checklist to identify essential gaps in meeting major regulations and ensure that compliance could be executed correctly at a university-wide level.
The model focuses on five essential compliance requirements that should be addressed in almost all regulations, helping institutions to quickly discover loopholes and determine what kind of modification should be made in current policies to meet compliance requirements. Below are the five requirements mentioned in the model:
In this model, both appointing a chief information security officer and set up an information security program is closely related to the institute’s human resources policies and thereby will not be elaborated in this ebook. Instead, the following sections will focus on providing some tips and tricks for IT professionals on how to create proper IT policies and develop ongoing compliance monitoring systems, as well as providing suggestions on what to do to increase employee awareness and regulate their behaviors to avoid violations of regulations.
Although different educational organizations may have different IT systems and requirements regarding compliance, below are five basic tips and tricks that are universal to almost all institutions, helping them to find the right direction of customizing their own compliance plans.
Developing and maintaining a secure IT system is not the only thing you need to do to achieve compliance. How to regulate the behaviors of hundreds or thousands of employees in educational organizations is another important topic for institutions to think about. A common way to address this issue is to impose a well-designed employee behavior regulation/policy/manual/checklist with an emphasis on information security and compliance.
Different organizations and different regulations all have specific requirements for employee behaviors. For example, below is a sample of the FERPA compliance checklist that you can refer to when setting up your own.
“Compliance is a big deal.” After going through the whole book, you should at least have this notion in mind. For educational organizations specifically, ensuring that you meet all federal regulatory requirements doesn’t only help you avoid all fines, lawsuits, and other unfavorable consequences, but also shows a sincere, honest and caring attitude towards thousands of students and parents who choose you and trust you all the way.
Therefore, all educational organizations should understand their obligations and create a comprehensive security plan to address compliance concerns, ensuring that every student record is protected from unauthorized access.
The guidance in this book gives you all the basic facts and information you need to customize your own compliance plan. Please make sure that you take good use of this book and avoid headaches and potential lawsuits to compliance violations.