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Using Identity Verification to Help Higher Ed Weather COVID-19

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With many colleges and universities still teaching online because of the pandemic, there is a growing need to identify students remotely when they enroll or participate in online classes.

The coronavirus pandemic continues to have a massive impact on higher education. After an initial rush to remote learning in the early days of the pandemic and a tumultuous fall semester, schools are taking different approaches to instruction this spring, with nearly 40 percent of US colleges and universities teaching primarily online and more than a quarter offering in-person components.Footnote1

Most of these institutions have had to ramp up expenditures to provide for new solutions that enable social distancing in classrooms and widen their online class offerings to make sure they can comply with local pandemic regulations.Footnote2

Colleges and universities had to purchase a lot of new safety equipment, online learning materials, laptops, hardware, and additional software licenses to enable continuity of operations online and implement their pandemic emergency plans.

Online Identity Verification and Online Classes

With most instruction taking place online, there is a growing need to remotely identify students and other users of these academic programs. Several educational institutions have started adding online identity verification services to their online programs. These services can be used to verify students remotely when they are enrolling or participating in online classes.

Here's how it works:

  • Upon enrollment, a student takes a picture of their government-issued ID and a corroborating selfie.
  • The identity-verification solution automatically verifies the validity of the ID document and matches the selfie with the picture on the ID.
  • The student's personal information is extracted from the ID and compared with the student information on file with the institution to determine if the student is who they say they are and has the right to be added to the class.

Pairing identity verification with biometric authentication can ensure that the student attending an online class or exam is in fact the enrolled student.

The usage models seen in the market are very wide: Online identity verification can be directly implemented by colleges and universities, integrated into third-party online class-management software platforms, or leveraged by proctoring services during the testing process.

New COVID Relief Legislation

The US government recently passed two bills to provide funds to higher education institutions to help them move online and deliver their education services remotely.

On December 27, 2020, then-President Donald Trump signed into law the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 (CRRSAA). This law authorizes the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund II (HEERF II). In total, the CRRSAA authorizes $81.88 billion in support for education, in addition to the $30.75 billion that former US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos provided last spring through the Coronavirus Aid, Recovery, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.Footnote3

On January 14, 2021, the US Department of Education designated an additional $21.2 billion under HEERF II for higher education institutions to ensure that learning continues for students during the pandemic.

Institutions that Can Get These New Federal Funds and How

CRRSAA HEERF II allows schools and institutions that process US federal student aid (via Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965) to get additional emergency funding to help students and institutions during the pandemic (see the list here). Grant applications must be submitted before April 15, 2021.

Using the Funds

Recipients have one calendar year from the date of their award to expend funds. Schools must use at least 50 percent of the funds for emergency financial aid grants directly to students, and the rest of the funds must be used "to cover any costs associated with significant changes to the delivery of instruction due to the coronavirus."

Based on this new regulation, institutions may use the funds for the following institutional expenditures:

  • To purchase equipment or software, pay for online licensing fees, or pay for internet service to enable students to transition to distance learning, as such costs are associated with a significant change in the delivery of instruction due to the coronavirus
  • To pay a per-student fee to a third-party service provider, including an online program manager (OPM), for each additional student using the distance-learning platform, learning-management system, online resources, or other support servicesFootnote4

Reporting requirements for expenditures will be specified in forthcoming announcements.

This is an example of the previous 2020 CARES Act quarterly budget and expenditure reporting.

Conclusion

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many institutions have shifted some, if not all, of their academic activities online. Online identity verification solutions can be used to extend online classes to more students and enable the continuity of academic programs. In this case, when the educational institution incurs new expenses due to the pandemic, it can request these special federal funds from HEERF II. In this way, the institution can use the federal funds to help pay for the new software services or for new online student fees that are recognized by the new law.

Notes

  1. Elissa Nadworny, "Colleges Add More In-Person Classes for Spring, Amid High Risk of Coronavirus Spread," Morning Edition, National Public Radio, February 3, 2021. Jump back to footnote 1 in the text.
  2. Emma Whitford, "Pandemic's Fall Financial Toll Adds Up," Inside Higher Ed, January 12, 2021. Jump back to footnote 2 in the text.
  3. "CRRSAA: Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF II)," US Department of Education Office of Postsecondary Education, last modified March 19, 2021. Jump back to footnote 3 in the text.
  4. "Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund: Frequently Asked Questions about the Institutional Portion of the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund under Section 18004(a)(1) and 18004(c) of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act," US Department of Education Office of Postsecondary Education, accessed March 22, 2021. Jump back to footnote 4 in the text.

Roberto Colecchia is Senior Product Marketing Manager at Jumio.

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