Educause pushes Ed. Dept. to rethink ‘third-party servicer’ guidance

Educause is continuing to press the U.S. Department of Education to revise its oversight of edtech providers.
Dept. of Education seal
(Department of Education / Flickr)

Educause is continuing to work with its institutional members and other higher education organizations to get the U.S. Department of Education to reconsider its recent guidance on ‘third-party servicers,’ according to an update the higher ed IT organization shared last week.

The department’s guidance, in the form of a ‘Dear Colleague’ letter last month, was intended to expand the department’s oversight of online program management companies by classing them as ‘third-party servicers’ — a category of organizations that are required to report details of their business dealings with colleges and universities.

The department’s definition of ‘third-party servicers’ is now so broad, however, that it could be interpreted to cover any provider offering educational content, services, software or systems to higher education institutions. This could create “unnecessary burdens for higher education institutions and their providers,” Jarret Cummings, Educause’s senior adviser for policy and government relations, wrote last week in Educause Review.

It is unclear, Cummings wrote, whether the department intended its guidance — which introduces new reporting requirements for both colleges and the companies they work with — to cover such a “broad range of contractual relationships.”


Of particular concern in the guidance is the apparent ban on colleges working with companies based or owned outside of the United States. Requiring colleges to find alternative providers and terminate existing contracts has the potential to be “particularly costly and disruptive,” Cummings wrote.

“We believe that [the U.S. Department of Education] can and should address its legitimate interests without having an undue—and an unduly negative—impact on higher education as a whole,” Cummings wrote, adding that Educause will continue to press the department to revise its guidance.

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