For organizations in higher education – from academic institutions to their third-party service providers – the Higher Education Community Vendor Assessment Toolkit (HECVAT) is not new. As data protection and cybersecurity become increasingly critical for organizations across industries, HECVAT has perhaps never been more important than it is today.

Why? Because higher ed institutions (like many other organizations) increasingly rely upon third-party vendors to provide services or software that enable business operations. Ultimately, a vendor security assessment such as HECVAT can help both higher education institutions and their third-party service providers measure and respond to risk.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at HECVAT: what it is, why it was created, why it’s important, and some of the benefits that come along with it. With this knowledge, your organization will be better positioned to get the most out of HECVAT and your vendor risk management program.


The Higher Education Community Vendor Assessment Toolkit (HEVCAT) is a collection of security assessment questionnaire templates specifically designed to measure third-party risk for higher education institutions. Depending on which HECVAT assessment you use, a completed HECVAT can give both academic institutions and their solution providers a better understanding of the risks they face.

For colleges and universities, HECVAT is a way to assure that your third-party vendors have the appropriate information security, data privacy, and cybersecurity policies in place to protect your school’s sensitive institutional information and your constituents’ personally identifiable information (PII).

For third-party vendors, HECVAT is a way to demonstrate to higher education institutions that you have the appropriate information security, data privacy, and cybersecurity policies in place to protect their sensitive information and their constituents’ PII. A completed HECVAT can be used by multiple institutions to streamline the procurement process with any higher ed clients.

HECVAT was created by the Higher Education Information Security Council (HEISC) Shared Assessments Working Group in collaboration with Internet2 and REN-ISAC. Together, they crowdsourced a variety of existing vendor assessments such as PCI DSS and HIPAA, and analyzed which regulations were most successful.

HECVAT has seen several revisions over the years. Originally it was called the Higher Education Cloud Vendor Assessment Tool, but has since been renamed to better reflect its intended use beyond cloud service providers. This transition away from cloud services and toward third-party service providers was driven by a number of factors, such as:

  • The increasing number of third-party vendors used by the average higher education institution.
  • The increasing need to protect institutional information and sensitive data.
  • The increasing size and frequency of first-, third- and fourth-party data breaches and data leaks.

Like other vendor risk assessment templates, HECVAT combines vendor risk management best practices with common security control requirements from multiple sources. Ultimately, its purpose is to provide higher education institutions and their third-party vendors with a starting point for assessment.

Check out this vendor risk assessment checklist from Reciprocity for more on getting started with a vendor risk assessment.

Today, more than 150 colleges and universities already use HECVAT, and dozens of solution providers have made their HECVAT assessments available online at REN-ISAC. You can also check the Cloud Broker Index (CBI) for an up-to-date list of cloud service providers, including Google, who have willingly shared their complete HECVAT.

Why Is HECVAT Important?

Across many industries, information security and cybersecurity have been two of the top IT concerns for a number of years. That attention has been especially great in healthcare, finance, government, and more recently, higher education.

These days, colleges and universities are lucrative targets for hackers and threat actors. Research from Educause suggests that cyberattacks targeting higher education institutions were on the rise globally in 2021. Unfortunately, in many cases, the consequences of a data breach can result in significant monetary losses, not to mention reputational damages.

According to an Educause Top 10 Issues for 2020 survey, higher education institutions across the board are concerned about privacy and digital integration. At the same time, these institutions rely more and more upon third-party vendors, which inevitably introduces the potential for vendor risk.

The process of assuring compliance and security, however, often takes up resources that many IT teams simply can’t spare. That’s where HECVAT comes in.

Academic institutions that don’t mandate HECVAT assessments for their third-party vendors significantly increase the likelihood of unknown vulnerabilities; that can result in devastating data breaches. Meanwhile, solution providers that aren’t HECVAT-compliant risk losing out on business opportunities, as an increasing number of higher education institutions will come to prefer HECVAT compliant vendors over non-compliant ones.

Ultimately, HECVAT tools are a necessary solution for higher education institutions and their service providers to demonstrate their dedication to information security, data privacy, and cybersecurity best practices.

What Are the Different Versions of HECVAT?

Today, HECVAT consists of a suite of tools that allow both higher education institutions and their service providers to select a unique questionnaire for their particular needs.


The HECVAT Full questionnaire is the most robust HECVAT security assessment. It consists of more than 250 questions for the most critical data-sharing engagements, and is intended for vendors interested in providing a higher education institution with software or services.

See the HECVAT Full questionnaire here.


The HECVAT Lite questionnaire is a slimmer version of HECVAT Full and is used for an expedited or less-critical process. This questionnaire is also intended for vendors interested in providing an institution with software or services.

See the HECVAT Lite questionnaire here.

HECVAT – On-Premise

The HECVAT On-Premise questionnaire is a unique assessment for evaluating on-premise appliances and software. (It can also be used by vendors interested in providing an institution with software or services.)

See the HECVAT On-Premise questionnaire here.

HECVAT – Triage

The HECVAT Triage questionnaire is for schools interested in sharing institutional data with a third-party software or service provider. It should not be completed by a vendor. The purpose of this form is to document and summarize data sharing intents, data sharing scope, data elements, and technology requirements.

Oftentimes, populating a HECVAT Triage questionnaire is a prerequisite to begin a risk or security assessment, and can help determine the assessment requirements.

See the HECVAT Triage questionnaire here.

What Are the Benefits of HECVAT?

As mentioned above, HECVAT is important for a number of reasons, for both higher education institutions and their vendors, such as reducing vendor risk. Here are some of the additional benefits to consider when it comes to HECVAT:

More Efficient Operations

Because HECVAT is tailored to higher education institutions and their particular needs, HECVAT allows these organizations to operate more efficiently. HECVAT is designed to help higher education institutions assure that their third-party vendors are appropriately assessed for security and privacy needs.

HECVAT allows institutions to focus their attention elsewhere, knowing that the third-party vendors they work with have the appropriate policies, procedures, and processes in place and that they are effectively enforcing the expected security measures and standards.

The HECVAT assessment also allows service providers to operate more effectively by giving them a standard against which they can measure their own security measures and standards. Vendors that are HECVAT-compliant can advertise this fact to potential customers, to set themselves apart from competitors also trying to win higher education customers.

Reduced Costs

Performing security audits on all your third-party is time-consuming and expensive. HECVAT alleviates much (although not all) of that burden for schools, which saves them money.

HECVAT also reduces some of the burden service providers face when responding to security assessment requests from higher education institutions. In this sense, HECVAT can also reduce costs for service providers by giving them a standard to measure their own security against, rather than expecting them to create their own from scratch.

What Next?

While HECVAT is a great security assessment template, it is not a complete vendor risk management program unto itself. HECVAT is a point-in-time assessment that doesn’t account for any changes that might occur after you receive the completed security assessment from a vendor.

Without a consolidated approach to vendor risk management, many academic institutions still use outdated and manual solutions, which aren’t doing any favors for their compliance or their security.

Fortunately, there are solutions designed to help.

Manage Your Vendor Assessment with Reciprocity ZenRisk

No matter your industry, the process of vendor risk management is not a simple one. An important part of that process includes security questionnaires, like HECVAT. That said, a security assessment such as HECVAT only gives you a glimpse into the security of your vendors at a specific point in time.

Reciprocity ZenRisk is an integrated cybersecurity risk management solution designed to provide you with actionable insights to gain the visibility you need to stay ahead of threats and clearly communicate the impact of risk on high-priority business initiatives. Turn the unknown into quantifiable and actionable risk insights with built-in expertise that identifies and maps risks, threats and controls for you, so you can spend less time setting up the application and more time using it.

A single, real-time view of risk and business context allows you to communicate to the board and key stakeholders in a way that’s framed around their priorities, keeping your risk posture in sync with the direction your business is moving.

Reciprocity ZenRisk will even notify you automatically of any changes or required actions, so you can be on top of your risk posture like never before. Eliminate time-consuming, manual work and streamline collaboration by automating workflows and integrating with your most critical systems.

Plus, Reciprocity ZenRisk is seamlessly integrated with Reciprocity ZenComply so you can leverage your compliance activities to improve your risk posture with the use of AI. Built on the ZenGRC, the Reciprocity product suite gives you the ability to see, understand and take action on your IT and cyber risks.

Now, through a more proactive approach, you can give time back to your team with Reciprocity ZenRisk. Talk to an expert today to learn more about how the Reciprocity Product Suite can help your organization mitigate cybersecurity risk and stay ahead of threats.