Higher Ed in the News: 4/19

Photo by Max Böttinger on Unsplash.

This week on Higher Ed in the News, we profile three emerging stories: rising campus cybersecurity attacks, decreasing faculty positions and pay, and the impact of test-optional applications on diversity.

You can read last week’s edition of this series here.

Colleges are seeing more cybersecurity attacks

Readers of this series may recall an earlier hacking scandal where “homework help” websites were posting links on the academic and student support websites of hundreds of schools. A new report by Katherine Mangan in the Chronicle of Higher Education describes attacks on entire university systems, with the hackers looking to steal personal information from faculty and students and even going as far as asking for bribes to stop stealing the data once they’ve made a breach.

The University of Utah paid over $450,000 in ransom to hackers in August. In a recent incident at the University of Colorado, hackers demanded $17 million, which the school opted not to acquiesce.  

Data cited in the story said that 43% of the intrusions were traced to cybercriminals hacking in, and 27% occurred when institutions accidentally leaked information. Lost or stolen computers and other devices accounted for another 15% of data leaks. Some tips outlined by Mangan include training for the community on how to avoid phishing, reducing the number of people who have access to sensitive information, creating backup strategies for important documents, and using multi factor authentication (hello Duo!) when possible.


Faculty positions and compensation seeing cuts across the country

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently reported that 650,000 higher ed positions were eliminated between February and December of 2020, with the negative impact of the coronavirus pandemic primarily to blame for these cuts that affected roughly 13% of faculty at American institutes of higher learning. 

An article from Higher Ed Dive explores the findings from a survey conducted by the American Association of University Professors. The analysis determined that roughly 30% of participating schools decreased fringe benefits and 10% furloughed faculty members, while the creation of early-retirement programs and changes to tenure tracks also became prevalent. Roughly 60% of the schools either froze or decreased faculty salaries, leading to a 0.4% decrease in full-time faculty wages and the first dip in this category since 2011-12.  


Test-optional approach may modestly help attract students from underrepresented backgrounds

As schools prepare for their next big wave of applicants in fall 2022, the equitable education advocacy group FairTest estimates that a majority of the 1,350 four-year institutions in the U.S. plan to use a test-optional approach, according to Higher Ed Dive. An American Educational Research Journal study found that optional admissions test policies are tied to increases in enrollment among applicants from underrepresented student demographics.

The underrepresented student groups tracked in the study include those from Black, Latinx, and Native American demographics, as well as women. Overall, these schools saw a 2% increase in first-time enrollment figures from minorities and women during the years immediately following their change to testing-optional policies, with the underrepresented segment increasing from 10% to 12% and the women’s segment rising from 6% to 8%. 

While it’s certainly better for these figures to increase than stay stagnant or fall, the minimal increases indicate that shifting to test-optional policies “may be insufficient to achieve a more transformative change” and that additional strategies to achieve a more diverse and larger applicant pool are necessary.