The Liabilities of Online Content In An Active Community
The past decade has seen a steady flow of litigation in the world of post-secondary education. Major cases involving colleges, universities and training institutions have been seen on court dockets throughout the US, Canada and Europe. Students have taken action against schools, teachers have taken action against their employers, copyright and trademark violations have been filed and the list goes on and on.
Post-secondary educational facilities are often on the cutting-edge of technology and their widespread use of online technologies is pervasive. Since schools have such a broad scope of interaction with their students and community online, they can easily become exposed to frivolous and vexatious litigation. Now, presented with the volatile and unruly nature of social media content, many schools are looking at ways to manage the risks associated with websites, blogs and social media channels.
The Risks of Misrepresentation in Education
There have been several cases of misrepresentation in college and university communications, from sharing inaccurate information on educational programs, to undermining student expenses and overestimating the likelihood of graduate employability. Such misrepresentation can occur in any medium of college and university communication from course catalogs to social media, the passing words of recruiters and admission officers, or on official websites and social media pages.
The Department of Education has taken action to set specific regulations and disclosure requirements to help protect prospective students and the general public from such misrepresentation.The Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) sets specific disclosure requirements that impact IT departments, marketing and recruiting teams and advertising partners involved with colleges and universities.
HEOA Disclosure Requirements
According to the HEOA colleges and universities must make the following information (but not limited to it) available and easy navigable on their websites, preferably in no more than three clicks:
- privacy policies
- descriptions of facilities and services for disabled persons
- refund and withdrawal policies
- transfer of credit policies
- copyright infringement policies
- policies on computer use and illegal file sharing
- information on student activities
- descriptions of career and job placement services
- information about required textbooks
- crisis communication plans
- student expense calculators
- drug and alcohol abuse prevention policies
- vaccination policies
- campus crime statistics
Misrepresentation can cost colleges millions in fines, lost revenue and litigation expenses. Additional consequences can include limitations in student aid and a disability to participate in federal programs. As this industry continues to make the news for misrepresentation cases, colleges and universities must be sure to backup their claims with facts, maintain consistency across their communications, and put proper systems in place for collecting their online records for compliance and litigation protection.