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ED OIG Drops Tech Fixes for Identity Verification in Latest Report

Summary: In its latest report on financial aid fraud in distance education, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) dropped previously proposed technology-based measures for student identity verification that EDUCAUSE considered problematic. The OIG now recommends enhanced admissions documentation to address identity verification concerns, which seems much more manageable within existing institutional systems and processes. However, the OIG continues to advocate for changes in the financial aid need calculation for distance learners as well as maintenance of a standard for determining the last date of attendance for the return of federal student aid funds that could damage online distance education.

NIH Notice: Network Restriction on Pornography

Summary: NIH released a notice alerting award recipients of a new restriction on the use of funds “to maintain or establish computer network” unless that network blocks access to pornography. NIH interprets the provision as applying only to funds awarded directly for such purposes; overhead funds are not involved. That essentially restricts NIH’s application of the provision to project-based networks, removing the concern that any institution receiving NIH funds might have to implement blocking or filtering across its campus network. Researchers with potentially impacted projects should consider discussing their concerns with their NIH grants and contracts officer.

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Policy at EDUCAUSE 2013

Federal and campus-level policy issues impacting IT in higher education were hot topics at EDUCAUSE 2013. The Security Privacy, and Compliance and Data/Information Access and Management domains featured many related sessions.

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Major Provosts Embrace Online Learning

The real, near-term impact of the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) trend has begun to emerge. In response to the rapidly growing awareness and acceptance of online learning that MOOCs have generated among policy-makers and the general public, senior leaders of traditional colleges and universities are beginning to publicly acknowledge the centrality of online learning to higher education’s present and future.

WCET Testimony on Proposed Distance Ed. Federal Regulations

As previously reported, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) recently revived the regulatory process it began last summer to address financial aid fraud concerns related to distance education and expanded it to resurrect the department’s previously overturned distance education state authorization regulation. Our colleagues at the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) and the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET) testified at a May 30th public hearing about the process, with Russ Poulin, WCET’s deputy director for research and analysis, specifically addressing the regulatory areas the pending rule-making process will cover.

House Cmte. Passes Bill on Higher Ed. Data Transparency

On a bipartisan voice vote that took place in record time yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce approved sending the "Improving Postsecondary Education Data for Students Act" (HR 1949) to the full House for consideration. The bill calls for the creation of an advisory committee under the U.S. Department of Education to examine the available research on what information about colleges and universities, and in what formats, would most help students and families in navigating higher education, as compared to the information that is actually available to them and how it's provided.

The Student Unit Record System Returns?

As reported today in Inside Higher Ed, the Wyden-Rubio, and now Warner (D-VA), "Student Right to Know Before You Go Act" has shifted from its early stage concept of knitting together the state longitudinal data systems (SLDSs), built over the last several years via federal grants, into a federated database that would span the country and allow for tracking students throughout their educational careers and into the workforce, and across states. (For additional background, please see my March 7, 2013, blog post as well.) Instead, the latest version of the bill, which was formally introduced in both the U.S.

SHEEO State Authorization Resources Updated

Sharmila Mann, a senior policy analyst at the State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO) association, issued the following announcement this week on SHEEO's freshly updated state authorization resources, including its guide to the authorization regulations, processes, and contacts for various states. Note that she also discusses the process and timing for the next round of updates, which SHEEO plans to start in January 2014. (Many thanks to our friends at WCET for sharing Sharmila's announcement with us.)

Major Higher Ed. Community Developments on State Authorization

The higher education community continues to make significant progress toward addressing the problems of distance education state authorization through the development of a state authorization reciprocity proposal. The Commission on the Regulation of Postsecondary Distance Education, a joint effort of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU) and the State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO), recently released its final report, Advancing Access through Regulatory Reform: Findings, Principles, and Recommendations for the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA).

Google Accessibility Improvements

Google started informing its applications user groups today about the accessibility improvements it has made to a range of its applications and software platforms. (Please see below for the quoted text.) If you're interested in learning more about accessibility updates for one of the products listed, Google invites you to contact its accessibility group (accessible@googlegroups.com). 

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