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Compliance in higher education: Unique challenges and best practices for GCS

Taking stock of some common challenges, and implementing the best practices to combat them, can help higher education meet its legal obligations.

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Image: Georgia Tech Professional Education

Compliance is a serious matter in all organizations across industries, but compliance presents some unique challenges for institutes of higher education.

Educational institutions like colleges and universities have innumerable legal and regulatory requirements to be followed in academics, finances, health care, human resources, and athletics.

In the contemporary era, higher education institutes must implement and maintain an effective compliance program.

Increasing public awareness, coupled with increasing compliance requirements, has made it mandatory for institutions to identify and manage their compliance risk proactively.

Failing to effectively address the prevalent risks can lead to significant damage to reputation, monetary losses or liabilities, and potential restrictions on the institute’s operations.

Importance Of Compliance In Higher Education

With the fast-evolving business landscape and the ever-increasing number of regulations, educational institutes must be vigilant and have a complete understanding of their regulatory compliance requirements.

1. Compliance Is A Duty Of Higher Education Institutes

It is the legal obligation of every higher education institute to have a corporate compliance plan in place.

The institute has a duty towards the society and its stakeholders, including the staff and the students, and is required to be transparent in its operations.

2. Compliance Is Required For Building Trust

Building trust in the minds of the stakeholders is important for organizations across industries and even more so for an institute of higher education.

Adherence to legal regulations and proper reporting helps colleges and universities build credibility.

3. Reduced Legal Problems

Compliance has many benefits, and one of the major ones is the reduction in legal problems.

Implementing a proper compliance management system helps your institution decrease your risk of penalties, fines, lawsuits, work stoppages, etc.

Failing to meet your compliance can have grave consequences on your college or university.

4. Better Public Relations And Higher Employee Retention

The education institutes that meet their legal requirements are considered more credible.

Colleges and universities that are proactive and committed to honesty, transparency, and social justice have better public relations with their stakeholders.

Moreover, these institutions have higher employee retention rates than the ones without such policies.

The Challenges Of Compliance In Higher Education

There are numerous challenges involved in compliance in higher education due to the unique nature of colleges and universities that differentiates them from organizations in other industries.

The chief compliance officer has to consider the issues prevalent in higher education institutions while implementing compliance plans in colleges and universities.

1. Risk Of Cyber Attacks

Colleges and universities have always been favorite targets for hackers.

The databases of higher education institutions contain personal and confidential information of thousands of students and are relatively easy targets for cybercriminals.

Since most institutes have moved to online classes in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the threat of “Zoombombing” has become commonplace.

2. Protecting Stakeholders Against Phishing

Phishing is a serious kind of cyber attack that students and teachers face. Higher education institutes are easy targets for phishing attacks.

The staff and the students need to be protected from phishing attacks. For this, it is imperative to implement a strong security system to safeguard the integrity of the institute’s databases.

3. Challenges Of Creating A Secure Network

Since institutes of higher education are at a greater risk of cyber attacks, the importance of developing and maintaining a secure network can’t be overemphasized.

However, as the security risks keep changing with time, creating a secure network becomes more challenging.

With most educational institutes moving to online classes in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, newer cybersecurity threats have come up.

4. Risk of Penalties

Just as having a strong corporate compliance plan in place helps strengthen an organization’s public image, the absence of one can put your college or university at risk of penalties.

In case your higher education institute becomes the target of a cyberattack, the college might also end up getting penalized by the government for failing to protect its teachers and students.

5. Disconnected Systems

As the world moves more towards online education, it becomes imperative that higher education institutes implement a consolidated system that supports remote education modules.

However, in many cases, especially in smaller institutions, the technology used is not up-to-date and might result in disconnected systems.

In the absence of well-organized systems, effective compliance management becomes very difficult.

Best Practices For General Counsel In Compliance In Higher Education

The General Counsel (GC) in higher education plays multiple roles. In addition to serving as the chief legal advisor, they are also the secretary and governance advisor in many cases.

The multiplicity of roles allows the GC to be more effective in providing legal services within the university and oversee and manage the institution’s operations within limits prescribed by law.

The GC’s duties and responsibilities include:

  1. As a legal advisor, the GC provides legal counsel and guidance to the upper management of the higher education institute on all legal matters.
  2. They identify legal issues and advise top management on developing legal solutions and strategies, especially when the situation in question is of great financial, political, or public relations significance.
  3. The GC researches, reviews, interprets, and prepares reports on a wide range of legal issues and drafts and approves policies, procedures, bylaws, regulations, and other legal documents.
  4. The GC designs and establishes an organizational structure to effectively accomplish the goals and objectives of the organization. They also supervise the recruitment, training, and supervision of unit staff.
  5. Developing and managing the annual budgets for the organization is also the responsibility of the GC. They perform periodic cost and productivity analyses as well.
  6. The GC selects and retains outside counsel to obtain legal opinions and supervises the legal work of other university attorneys and paralegals on difficult or sensitive issues.

In Closing

According to corporate compliance insights into the working of businesses, the absence of an effective compliance management system can lead to disastrous consequences for the organization.

Educational institutions and universities are no exception and must adhere to various policies, rules, internal and external controls that are legally applicable to the industry.

Taking stock of some common challenges, and implementing the best practices to combat them, can help higher education meet its legal obligations and be in accordance with the regulations.

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