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Columbia College Uses Technology to Combat Financial Aid Fraud

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As the popularity of online education continues to grow, colleges and universities are becoming increasingly vulnerable to financial aid 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 exploit distance education programs to obtain financial aid have increased significantly in the past few years. Between 2009 and 2012, federal financial aid fraud grew 82 percent, with more than 85,000 people potentially participating in fraud rings. An estimated $187 million in federal student aid has been lost as a result.


Through a partnership with ProctorU, an innovative educational tech company that provides student authentication services and live online proctoring, Columbia College has taken a proactive approach to combat financial aid fraud. ProctorU’s multi-layered authentication service relies on three key components to verify the identity of distance education students:

Something you have: Live proctor views government or school-issued photo identification.

Something you are: Keystroke biometric profiling.

Something you know: Challenge questions randomly generated from public records.

Impact and Advantage

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.

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,” said René Massey, associate dean for Columbia College. “That monetary investment is nothing compared to what is saved by avoiding fraud.”