Top Higher Ed IT Policy Issues 2018

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Now is a good time to review the top federal policy issues for the higher education IT community in the year ahead.

The focus of the 2018 EDUCAUSE Top 10 IT Issues is on the remaking of higher education. Each year EDUCAUSE devotes significant effort to understanding how federal policy might impact a college or university's institution-wide IT strategy. Federal actions — from rewriting FERPA to proposing a national breach notification law to changing the Federal Acquisition Rules — can impact institutional missions and strategic directions in unanticipated ways. Thus, in the grand tradition of the EDUCAUSE Top 10 IT Issues project, now is a good time to review the top federal policy issues for the higher education IT community in the year ahead:

  • Information security and data privacy: This perennial Top 10 IT Issue remains a hot policy topic, too. Institutions have growing concerns about Federal Student Aid breach notification and information security compliance actions. The potential application of uniform Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) requirements to federal grants and contracts, including FSA agreements, also continues to lurk on the horizon, with major operational and cost implications. Also in this area, the House Education and the Workforce Committee may try again to rewrite the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). In the committee's last attempt, it sought to introduce breach notification and information security standards into FERPA for the first time. EDUCAUSE works independently and in concert with its fellow higher education associations to inform Congress and federal agencies about the practical — and often unintended — consequences of legislation and regulation in this space.
  • Network neutrality: The passage of a new "open internet" order by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) at the end of 2017 signals "the end of the beginning" to the latest network neutrality battle. The new order eliminates both federal network neutrality rules and FCC oversight of the issue. Nearly two dozen state attorneys general as well as public interest groups have filed lawsuits seeking to overturn the order and restore "no blocking, no throttling, and no paid prioritization" rules. Congress may ultimately have to pass a legislative fix, if it can, with the future of online learning and cloud services hanging in the balance. Our higher education network neutrality coalition is monitoring both legal and legislative developments for opportunities to reinforce higher education's interest in and recommendations for restoring network neutrality.
  • Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization: Congress and the President may not be able to update the nation's primary higher education law in a contentious election year. The relevant House committee is seeking a floor vote on its version, though, and its Senate counterpart is working on a bill as well. Most HEA issues (e.g., student financial aid) fall outside EDUCAUSE's scope. However, the House bill includes the accessible instructional materials bill that we, along with other higher education and disability rights groups, support. It is possible the Senate version could, too. Meanwhile, EDUCAUSE continues to watch for new and troubling provisions to emerge, much as copyright infringement requirements did in the last reauthorization.

Efforts to remake higher education through federal policy unfold all the time, requiring constant vigilance. Other issues could easily arise when least expected to supplant these top contenders or expand the field. EDUCAUSE continuously monitors for developments that impact the role of IT in higher education. Whatever form they may take in 2018, we will strive to ensure the interests of our members are reflected in the outcome.

Jarret Cummings is the Director of Policy and Government Relations for EDUCAUSE.