The Department of Education through the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA) mandates education institutions to safeguard students’ data at all levels. Although higher education institutions are not required to adopt specific security controls, it mandates the institutions to use “reasonable methods” that will protect students’ privacy.
Unfortunately, thousands of breaches happen every year at higher education institutions. These breeches not only violate FERPA guidelines but also expose students to extortion, identity theft, and other forms of Internet fraud. Here’s what higher education institutions should do to ensure the privacy of student data.
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There has been a recent upsurge in the use of tech tools at higher education institutions. These tools collect a lot of student data. To guarantee the privacy of this data, ensure that it is securely stored and transmitted. Only use websites whose URLs feature a security link icon. These websites are secure, and should any of your data gets leaked on them, unauthorized third-parties won’t be able to access it.
When using edtech tools, make students aware of the data that you collect from them. Being upfront with your students, and even their parents will make it easier for them to trust you with their data. At the start of every semester, list down all tools that collect data from the students. Highlight relevant individual privacy policies of each tool for the students to review.
Similarly, inform students in advance about any disclosure of their data to any persons or organizations beyond the institution. Data disclosures to third parties ought to be accompanied by privacy policies. They should also come with publicly available contracts that specify the type of data getting disclosed, and why it’s being disclosed. Once a culture of transparency is nurtured, it will be easy to create and implement a plan that protects student privacy.
FERPA is the bare minimum as far as protecting higher education data is concerned. Nonetheless, abiding by its provisions, doesn’t guarantee data privacy. Your institution should adopt norms and policies regarding the collection, use, and sharing of student data.
Likewise, higher education institutions ought to implement and enforce laws that govern the privacy of students’ data. These laws should, for instance, specify applicable fines relating to data privacy violations by employees and even third parties. There should be a consensus about the adoption of these laws. Without a collective agreement, it will be hard to adopt enforceable data privacy policies.
The significance of data securing your networks and systems cannot be understated. To protect yourself against breaches, secure your devices, network, and even the data center. Likewise, toughen your password policy to minimize cases of infringement.
Also, regular security audits ought to be undertaken by third-party experts so that loopholes in your networks are pinpointed and dealt with. All bids and contracts should have enforceable and robust data security provisions for online service providers and vendors.
Unless you train students, employees, vendors, and other stakeholders, they won’t know what they should do to prevent data breaches. They also won’t know how to react when a data breach occurs. For this reason, sensitize the aforementioned individuals on your data privacy policies and how students’ data ought to be handled.
Everyone who handles student data ought to undergo annual privacy training so that they stay abreast of what they should do to safeguard the data. Regular training also ensures that relevant stakeholders understand laws regarding data privacy. Apart from regulations stipulated by the Department of Education, federal and state agencies have developed privacy-related toolkits that can help you safeguard students’ data.
The interpretation of data privacy laws relating to higher education institutions changes regularly. Therefore, be on the lookout for these laws and regulations and adjust your institution’s data policies and regulations accordingly.
In today’s Internet age, technology has made it easier for higher education institutions to engage students. With the use of different tech tools, tons of data is collected both by the institutions and companies that provide these services.
Securing students’ personal information will help you prevent cyber attacks. There are lots of higher ed breaches to learn from so that you secure your networks. By understanding how different types of breaches occur, you will be able to protect yourself moving forward.