More and more black universities are getting help with their outdated IT

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About a quarter of the nation’s historically black colleges and universities are now enrolled to receive a comprehensive IT assessment designed to bring institutions into compliance with federal cybersecurity standards, the director of the Student Freedom Initiative told EdScoop.

The nonprofit is now offering its program, designed to address long-standing inequalities that have led to gaps in digital infrastructure and to prevent HBCUs from losing their ability to distribute financial aid, in 14 states. Out of 107 HBCUs, 25 have agreements with SFI and its partners to receive a comprehensive assessment of the requirements established by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, called NIST 800-171. (The group has not publicly named participating institutions.) The agreements also provide institutions with equipment and a year of support as they develop long-term IT strategies.

Group executive director Mark Brown said 17 more deals are under review and once the program is geographically expanded, SFI expects to reach 50% of HBCUs by the start of the year. next.

The Department of Education announced in December 2020 that it would put in place programs to verify whether institutions distributing financial aid were in compliance with federal confidentiality requirements, although it did not announce any deadlines or penalties for non-compliance. The HBCUs have historically seen fewer resources and smaller endowments than other institutions, as the Biden administration pointed out in September. Fewer resources often lead to challenges when trying to modernize IT infrastructure and cybersecurity posture, a consideration SFI cited in an announcement in May that tech giant Cisco would invest $ 150 million in the project.

American Virtual Cloud Technologies, an Atlanta-based IT company, is leading the assessments, which began this year. The SFI program then provides money, equipment and advice to fill the compliance gaps. Cisco provides equipment and maintenance, while the top IT organization Educause provides professional development for technology leaders.

While implementing the changes needed to meet federal guidelines is free under the program, institutions need long-term plans to maintain their cyber infrastructure and implement the changes, Brown said. And while HBCUs vary widely in size and resources, he said, conversations with leaders show common challenges, such as IT staffing.

“What they told us that we kind of felt – but didn’t know how bad this problem was – is that they think they can’t keep the talent based on the competition. ‘other schools and industry as well,’ Brown said. , adding the certifications and experience necessary to fill these positions makes skilled workers a “must have”.

Sharing some cybersecurity services among institutions in various regions could be a potential next step in addressing resource disparities, Brown said.

Institutions are also struggling to meet student demand for digital services, he said, such as being able to complete tasks like enrolling or changing classes from their phones. Institutions unable to digitize services because cybersecurity cannot keep up is a “no-starter,” he said, as this will prevent HBCUs from attracting students.

After providing financial support and equipment, the SFI program also works with schools on long-term governance for about a year, partnering with Educause to provide professional development. Brown said the year that nonprofits work with schools on IT strategy will be key.

“Think of us as a program manager for these HBCUs,” he said. “We just say, ‘Let us make sure [infrastructure improvement] actually gets done and goes to campus and is executed.

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