Columbia College fights financial aid fraud, saves nearly $6 million

14 Oct

As the popularity of online education grows, it leaves colleges and universities vulnerable to those seeking financial gains through fraudulent means. Columbia College, which educates thousands of students each year through distance education, has employed a successful process to identify potential financial aid fraud, reduce disbursements of aid to fraudulent students and curtail revenue loss—saving the college nearly 6 million dollars.

Through a partnership with ProctorU, an innovative educational tech company that provides student authentication services and live online proctoring, Columbia College has worked to reduce financial aid fraud. ProctorU’s layered authentication service requires students to verify their identity through multiple checkpoints while speaking to a ProctorU representative via a webcam, including presenting a government- or school-issued photo ID and answering randomized security questions. Through this student identity management process, and capturing a webcam photo, the college avoided disbursing nearly $6 million in financial aid funds. Columbia College also employs a team of staff members to identify and investigate possible fraud.

“We’re tackling an important issue by using our staff members’ expertise and ProctorU’s services,” says René Massey, associate dean for Columbia College. “That monetary investment is nothing compared to what is saved by avoiding fraud.”

In a 2013 report to Congress by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General, a risk analysis found that fraud rings of criminals who try to exploit distance education programs to obtain financial aid have increased significantly in the past few years. An estimated $187 million in federal student aid has been lost as a result. Identity management systems and authentication services, like the ones used by Columbia College and provided by ProctorU, significantly curb criminals’ ability to abuse the system. This not only saves millions of dollars, but it also increases retention rates and lowers loan default rates.

“Testing isn’t the only place institutions have to worry about cheating. Online identity fraud is a growing issue and institutions need to be sure that they are indeed interacting with the student,” ProctorU President Don Kassner said.

Columbia College prides itself on its ability to adapt to change and embrace innovation by offering educational programs that meet the needs of an ever-changing society, according to college officials. The college often has been among the first colleges to innovate in higher education by providing new adult learner formats, military education and online education. Now, nearly 16,000 students take at least one online course each year at Columbia College. The Online Campus at Columbia College offers more than 800 accredited online classes and 27 accredited online degree programs.

For more information about Columbia College, visit For more information about ProctorU visit

About Columbia College
Founded in 1851 in Columbia, Missouri, Columbia College has been helping students advance their lives through higher education for more than 160 years. As a private, nonprofit, liberal arts and sciences institution, the college takes pride in its small classes, experienced faculty and quality educational programs. With more than 30 campuses across the country, 18 of which are on military installations, students may enroll in day, evening or online classes. The college is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and is a member of the North Central Association. Columbia College educates more than 31,000 students each year and has more than 84,000 alumni.

About ProctorU
ProctorU provides student identity management and live proctoring services to higher education institutions. ProctorU helps institutions adapt to the evolving educational landscape by enhancing the online education experience, making it simple to authenticate student identity and test students anywhere. Through a variety of methods, including a 3-step authentication process, and multiple checkpoints for identity verification, ProctorU helps institutions ensure academic integrity and the quality and value of today’s courses and degrees. Founded in 2008, ProctorU has administered nearly 1 million exams for test-takers in 75 countries and works with more than 500 institutions. The company has four facilities across the U.S. and employs over 400 people.

ProctorU, Instructure announce partnership to provide live exam proctoring for online students

18 Jun

PARK CITY, Utah – ProctorU announced today a new partnership with Canvas by Instructure to offer a seamless online exam proctoring experience for distance learning students. The ProctorU Canvas app was developed by open-source learning management system (LMS) provider Instructure, and gives test-takers and colleges the ability to handle all aspects of the proctoring process without ever leaving the LMS environment—a major step in higher education and education technology.

“The goal of the ProctorU Canvas app is to reduce students’ stress associated with test-taking and finding a test center. Our new partnership will make the proctoring process as seamless and simple as possible for students taking tests online,” ProctorU’s Executive Vice President Jarrod Morgan said. “The release of the ProctorU Canvas app is just another step in simplifying distance education.”

Students can create accounts, schedule and pay for examinations, and test their computer and webcam from directly inside the Canvas LMS. Instructors have the ability to generate test reports and set up in-app assessments. Since the integration is developed by Instructure, the app will always be up-to-date with any new changes to Canvas.

The announcement was made at the annual InstructureCon conference in Park City, Utah, near the Instructure headquarters located in Salt Lake City.

“Today’s announcement and earlier developments show ProctorU’s commitment to bridging the divide between simplicity and accessibility through innovative technology and high quality customer service,” Morgan said.

In Fall 2012, ProctorU teamed with the University of North Carolina System to develop an application programming interface (API) to integrate with all 17 institutions. In Spring 2014, ProctorU finalized its Blackboard integration with the release of a Building Block.

About ProctorU
ProctorU provides proctoring services for higher education institutions to make online testing more secure. The service allows students to take any test, anywhere. As an extension of the institution, ProctorU helps ensure the academic integrity of colleges and universities and their students. Proctors use a three-step approach to authenticate a student’s identity: see the student, see what they’re doing and know who they are. Founded in 2008, ProctorU has administered nearly 1 million exams for test-takers in 75 countries and works with more than 500 institutions. The company has four facilities across the U.S. and employs over 400 people.

Arizona college district sued over data breach

17 Jun

A community college system in Arizona is now under fire due to a data breach affecting 2.4 million people, according to a new lawsuit. Administrators from Maricopa County Community College District are accused of improperly handling a system hack dating back to January 2011, which lead to a bigger security breach in April 2013.

According to the suit, district officials didn’t notify those affected until November 2013 that their banking information, social security numbers and student academic information may have been exposed. The records involved stretch back 30 years and may include information from current students, former students, staff and vendors, according to local media. The lawsuit seeks $2,500 for each named plaintiff.

The news source also wrote that the district has authorized spending about $17 million to deal with the incident, which includes $10 million for credit monitoring and remediation and another $7 million to repair their network.

Interestingly enough, the news articles referenced for this blog post do not mention Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), although the district has a policy related to the federal regulation on its website. This data breach seems to be a clear violation of FERPA, which ties the protection of student data to Title IV funding.

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Misinformation leads to privacy concerns

10 Jun

As online proctoring continues to gain traction amongst some of the most recognized colleges and universities in the United States, criticisms and misperceptions have naturally come to light. Over the last year, many have raised issues concerning privacy and claim that online proctoring amounts to spying. Largely perpetrated by misinformed or sensationalized media outlets, online proctoring is little different than a physical testing center.

One recent story, produced by Fusion Media Network, which is affiliated with the ABC News network, introduced the segment and referred to online proctoring as using “technology worthy of the CIA, [and] peeking over your shoulder.” This language is dangerously misleading and conjures up the idea that the technology is spying on unwitting consumers.

The technology that ProctorU and other online proctoring services use is not comparable to CIA technology and has been available and open to the public for many years. The first webcam, which was used to check levels on a community coffee pot, was created at Cambridge University in 1991. Most laptop computers built within the last five to ten years come with this technology built-in. Additionally, smartphone cameras can also be used as a webcam. Remote access technology, used for screen-sharing and control, has been widely available, free of charge, by Google for some time. Many other services have existed for years and Microsoft has the feature built-in to the Windows operating system.

In the interest of transparency, ProctorU has relied on a third-party screen-sharing tool to access the computers of test-takers since its inception. Rather than build the software in-house, it was a conscious decision to use a product that can be independently verified and checked for security. This was out of the privacy concerns of some early adopters. The no-installation applet used to connect to test-takers expires after disconnection and is no longer valid to accept new incoming or outgoing connections.

To quell concerns ProctorU has also disabled the ability to transfer files and requires users to approve the initial connection to their system. Users also approve for a second time the ability of proctors to access system controls when diagnosing technical issues. All activity performed by a proctor is seen in real-time by the test-taker and the possibility of hidden actions simply does not exist. Once the proctor has entered the password to execute the examination, users can see, via chat-box documentation, that the proctor has switched over into a view-only mode and remote control access is no longer in use.

Additionally, ProctorU is partnered with a third-party payment processor, owned by VISA, and does not store any credit card information within its system.

ProctorU only collects basic personal information for identity authentication, such as the university test-takers attend, address, phone number and email. ProctorU’s servers meet and, in some cases, exceed federal regulation regarding the storage and protection of this data. ProctorU has been independently certified by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) for compliance with the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA). This is the same standard that all U.S. universities and colleges are held to. Proctors are extensively trained on FERPA law and the handling of test-taker information. ProctorU also conducts criminal background checks on all employees.

ProctorU has also won industry accolades, including two Sloan Consortium Effective Practice awards. A video of ProctorU President Don Kassner giving a presentation on adhering to FERPA can be viewed here.

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A brief history of technology in the classroom

29 May

A story from American Public Media’s Marketplace highlights the history of technology in the classroom, dating back to 1922 when Thomas Edison claimed that motion picture would be the future of education. The article covers several technological revolutions from the 21st century from radio, television and computers, emphasizing that each wave of modernization rarely lived up to the hype that proceeded it. While enthusiasm seemed palpable in the early phases of innovation, the real-world applications seemed to wallow in disappointment and lackluster results.


Modern observers of education technology could point out that a similar trend seemed obvious with the rapid rise and fall of the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) over the course of 2012, 2013 and 2014. Critics of online learning have made the same claims about web-based instruction, pontificating that Internet instruction is a fleeting trend, but those critics have been proven wrong by more than 20 years of steady growth worldwide. The major difference between online courses and previous ed tech trends is that the Internet is largely an interactive medium. Students receive instant feedback and can interact in real-time with educators and their peers.

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Are men dominating MOOC attendance?

21 May

Newly released data from HarvardX and MITx, the MOOC divisions of Harvard and MIT, has shed light on interesting trends emerging from the world of MOOCs. With nearly 2 million combined students, data shows that the majority of those students are male and already have college degrees.

MITx has the greatest disparity between male and female students with a 74.5 percent male population. The HarvardX male population was just over 63 percent. Each platform has an extended reach to more than 180 countries and had a median age of 27 and 28.

Another interesting trend was the amount of participants who already obtained a higher education degree. Over 60 percent of of students in both platforms had a bachelor’s or higher. Doctorate degrees made up roughly 5 percent of each platform.

So why are so many men flocking to MOOCs in shockingly disproportionate numbers? These reports highlight the need for continued research into the MOOC movement and its unique characteristics. Reaching so many countries is no small feat and MOOCs continue to have tremendous potential, but more research is needed to understand the lack of diversity.

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Babson survey claims over 7 million taking online courses

15 Apr

According to a recent Babson Survey Research Group report, the number of students taking at least one online course has now reached 7.1 million. The proportion of higher education students in this category has reached an all-time high of 33.5 percent taking at least one online course. “Grade Change – Tracking Online Education in the United States” is the eleventh annual report and draws on responses from more than 2,800 colleges and universities. A previous Babson survey on the same subject stated there were 6.7 million students taking online courses in the fall of 2011.

Nearly all of the surveyed chief academic leaders remain “strong believers” about the continued growth of students taking at least one online course. Ninety percent of leaders said that it is “likely” or “very likely” that the majority of higher education students will fall into this category.

While there were some slight decreases in the area concerning academic leaders attitudes towards online education effectiveness, all of the decrease is attributed to leaders at institutions without online offerings. Those who thought learning outcomes in online education to be the same or superior to face-to-face instruction saw a drop from 77 percent in 2012, to 74 percent in 2013.

Whether or not an institution offers online courses can be distinguished by a few indicators. The biggest barrier has been resource constraints on smaller populated institutions. Those with fewer than 1,500 students made up the largest proportion of schools that had no online offerings. There were very few surveyed institutions with over 3,000 students that did not offer courses online.

The 2013 survey reportedly broke away from typical patterns seen in previous Babson reports. In the past, institutions displayed similar patterns in the same direction of change. If one group noted an improvement on a particular index, all other groups would show a similar degree of improvement, according to the report. While the overall level of agreement varies, patterns of change would remain similar. This year’s survey broke that cycle.

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California and North Carolina community college systems create new partnership

9 Apr

The Workforce Credentials Coalition, a newly formed body of 20 states, just held its first meeting at the New America Foundation on April 7. The group, led by teams in California and North Carolina, hopes to develop a framework of joint standards around data sharing between industry and professional certifying bodies.

Leading the charge is the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office (CCCCO) and the North Carolina Community Colleges. As certifications and credentials become increasingly important to businesses around the country, there becomes a need for community colleges to align programs with industry standards, as well as track those students who are seeking certifications.

According to a report by the Workforce Data Quality Campaign, the coalition outlines three major reasons why they are seeking data sharing agreements: performance-based funding, alignment with local needs and federal grants.

As many states fund colleges through tax revenue, lawmakers are looking at performance-based models. The hope is to incorporate credential attainment as a performance metric. To better teach the skills required by local industries, colleges will use the data to align themselves more clearly to assess and ensure that students are attaining critical skills. To continue receiving federal grants, the U.S. Department of Labor now requires colleges who have been awarded Trade Assistance Act Community College Career Training Grants (TAACCCT) to track participants and report on credential attainment.

To see a full list of participating states, click here.

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Education technology see surge in investment funds

1 Apr

Education technology investment has taken 2014 by storm, already accumulating over $550 million dollars in the fiscal first quarter. According to CB Insights, a large venture capital database that tracks promising private companies, this accounts for nearly 45 percent of the sector’s total funding in all of 2013.

Investors spent $559 million dollars in 103 deals in the fiscal first quarter. Since 2012, the ed-tech sector has seen over $1 billion in investments annually. The average investment size in 2014 rose to a new eight-quarter high of $6.21 million.

It may come as no surprise that Silicon Valley secured the most amount deals, accounting for roughly 16 percent of the contracts made in the last two years. New York was in a close second with 14 percent. The average deal size was $6 million and nearly $4 million, respectively.

Market forces are at work as startups seek to take advantage of the explosion of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), help K-12 schools meet common core standards in innovative ways and work to develop new digital tutoring hubs. This year is on track to set a new record of investment in ed-tech and it is certainly going to play a large role in defining the future of education.

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ProctorU announces Blackboard and Canvas integration

25 Mar

In an effort to maintain a simple and streamlined approach to online proctoring, ProctorU recently announced Application Programming Interface (API) integration with the Blackboard and Canvas learning management systems. The new approach will allow test-takers and institution administrators the ability to handle all aspects of the proctoring process without ever leaving the Learning Management System (LMS) environments users are already familiar with.

The ProctorU Blackboard Building Block and Canvas App, which will be available free of charge, require little setup for institutional technology teams. Once the LMS extensions are installed on the host format, administrators can create new exams in minutes. The API integration processes and sends ProctorU exam details immediately, eliminating the need for tedious email exchanges. Instructors also have the ability to edit these details after an exam has been created.

Having the ability to schedule exams and, if need be, pay for exams directly through the LMS, gives test-takers a more streamlined and simple online proctoring process. The ProctorU Building Block and Canvas App were designed with user experience and ease of use in mind, so even less tech-savvy folks will find it easy to register and complete their exam. If any problems occur, examinees have direct access to live technical support from ProctorU from within the LMS.

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