With the start of a new Fall semester faculty, staff and administrators at campuses statewide are rightly focused on equitable student experiences — orientation, development of inclusive syllabi, marketing of services for students with disabilities, tutoring and financial aid and basic needs support. But an often overlooked facet of the equitable student experience is our campus’ information systems. Immature information technology and security can slow down the whole cycle of student support, imposing delays in student enrollment confirmation or receipt of financial aid and hindering faculty and staff’s ability to reach out to students in need; recent cyberattacks at Sierra College and Los Angeles Unified School District are perfect examples of the disruption these instances can cause to students’ educational pathways. 

Given that the California Community Colleges serve historically under-resourced and economically disadvantaged groups, failure to smooth technology-facilitated transitions to the workforce and/or four-year institutions is a lost opportunity that delays upward economic mobility. Despite skepticism about the value of college, decades of research consistently note that on average completion of sub-baccalaureate coursework, certificates and degrees benefits individuals and their communities. Our work to achieve the Vision for Success hinges on important and oft-overlooked operational issues related to IT infrastructure and security. Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic the state and higher education sector specifically have recommitted to cybersecurity as a growing priority.

In response to these attacks and with guidance from other institutions of higher education, as well as state and federal law enforcement, the Chancellor’s Office has taken steps to improve visibility by instituting a monthly fraud reporting requirement, implementing a data-driven identity verification tool, requesting a basic technology inventory, and distributing the first annual cybersecurity self-assessment. In addition to purchasing software licenses to ensure standard information security baselines, the Chancellor’s Office is in the process of supporting third-party assessments as well. All information gathered will be used to inform an equitable strategy for allocating resources to colleges and districts. Funds are also being used for the redesign and overhaul of the systemwide application (“CCCApply”) and the analysis of a 24/7 security operations center. The extent to which a common, systemwide enterprise resource planning (ERP) is relevant to support security-related work is being incorporated into the Chancellor’s Office analyses.

Now more than ever it is important that all colleges and districts engage with the Chancellor’s Office. The technology inventory and monthly fraud monitoring have near 100% completion rates, and we expect similar engagement with the cybersecurity self-assessments. Bad actors will continue to take advantage, leaving systemwide collaboration as the only smart, fiscally responsible, and equitable approach. Even in the background, this work is critical to guided pathways and the goal of ensuring that unnecessary technology-based barriers are eliminated for students. 

Fred Rocha is the retired Chief Information Technology Officer for the Coast Community College District. Valerie Lundy-Wagner, Ph.D., is Vice Chancellor of Digital Innovation and Infrastructure at the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office.

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