Higher Education Act – Innovations, Definitions, and State Authorization

When passed in 1965, the Higher Education Act (HEA) was intended to “to strengthen the educational resources of our colleges and universities and to provide financial assistance for students in postsecondary and higher education.” Updated or “reauthorized” several times since then, the Act has historically housed most of federal resources and regulations for higher education in the United States. Remember that the states have authority over higher education in their jurisdictions, but the lure of financial aid for students, research funds, and other federal levers gives the federal government considerable sway over institutional activity.

Reauthorization is overdue. The House of Representatives has weighed in with its PROSPER Act, which was a purely one-party production. The Senate has been holding hearings and may soon deliver its own, more bipartisan, version in the coming weeks.

What would we like to see in HEA?

Richard Nelson, President of Nicolet College, eloquently presented his ideas in last week’s post, in which he sought to encourage innovation and protect aid from fraudulent uses. He also issued a challenge to WCET and reminded us of our first responsibility:
“Once again, I suggest that WCET is well-positioned to do this work and hold firmly to the belief that students come first. Always.”crowd of college graduates moving tassles on caps from one side to the other

Meanwhile, the Policy unit of WICHE (our parent organization) invited WCET to contribute to a “Statement of Principles and Positions” regarding the HEA. In this post, I’ll share with you some thoughts in response to President Nelson and what was included in those “Principles and Positions” that were recently approved by the WICHE Commission. I’ll focus on two issues:

  • Innovation vs. Protecting Students: Stop trying to define the moving targets of each innovation. While it is a worthy and necessary goal in protecting students, we can do better.
  • State Authorization for Out-of-State Activities: Recognize state responsibilities and reciprocity agreements.

The Balance Between Encouraging Innovation and Protecting Students

There is a constant tension between: a) the introduction of new modes of instruction and b) the need to assure that students are not harmed and federal aid funds are used properly. These two desires should not be at odds. Innovators want to move forward unfettered by rules while consumer protection professionals seek tight controls based upon a history of malfeasance by a select few.

President Nelson states the challenge very well:
“If well-crafted regulation can reduce the risks associated with innovation and help overcome resistance to change…How do we find the balance between making room for new models without throwing the door open to the unscrupulous opportunists who will exploit every perceived regulatory loophole?”

row of old dictionary books

In the WICHE “Statement of Principles and Positions”, we suggest a long- and short-term strategy to find this balance.

But First…the Problem with Definitions

The one constant in life is change. Let’s accept that.

Congress, the Department of Education, and the rest of us are currently mired in efforts to try to define “distance education,” “correspondence education,” “regular and substantive interaction,” and “competency-based education.” One staffer from the House Education and Workforce Committee told a group of accreditation leaders that one reason they left the “distance education” definition out of the PROSPER Act is that they could not agree on one.

Let’s stop it.

The House and Senate could better spend its time by preparing for future (currently unimagined) innovations, rather than pursuing granular definitions that are instantly outdated. For example, the current federal definition allows your use of “video cassettes, DVDs, and CD-ROMs.” Ask your kids if they know what those are. Some of you reading this might not know what they are.

a black and white photo of a vhs tape and cds/dvdsThe principles document acknowledges three basic tenets in making our recommendations:

  • “Policy formation lags innovation, and it always will.
  • “Change is inevitable, and new innovations that are not new envisioned are on the horizon.
  • “Students must be protected, and federal financial aid should not be used for non-productive or fraudulent purposes.”

Long-term: Create a Flexible Measure for Innovations Not Based on Specific Definitions

Given the difficulty of a major policy change, we suggest a long-term strategy that will take time and discussion. But, we are certainly open to a quicker, innovative solution. Our recommendations:

  • “Create a commission to develop a new process and set of regulations to handle innovations. Rather than waiting for years after an innovation has already become main stream, adopt new processes that allow aid to be used for emerging innovations with clear safeguards.
  • “As a model for regulating innovative modes of instruction, consider a modified version of the medical model for approving drugs and treatments…”

Also, we want to shift the discussion from input-based measures (e.g., “regular and substantive interaction”) to outcome-based measures (e.g., “last day of attendance,” student progression).

Short-term: Maintain Definitions Until the Process Described Above is Ready

While waiting for the longer-term solution, we can live with definitions a little while longer. We recommended:

  • That the Department maintain the current “distance education” definition, but I would like to amend that. Since we wrote that recommendation, a recommendation from seven large, innovative colleges (all of them are WCET members) wrote a letter with their own suggestions for definitions. A copy of the letter appears at the end of those post. Their recommendations should be seriously considered.
  • Adding a definition of “competency-based education.” Unfortunately, the seven presidents were unsuccessful in creating a definition for that mode of instruction. A definition is needed to provide those students with aid and it would be wise to consult the Competency-Based Education Network for their input on a definition.
  • Finally, replacing the “regular and substantive interaction” definition. The Department of Education has been lax in providing actionable guidance in how to comply. See the analysis by Van Davis (now an independent consultant) and myself of the many documents that need to be consulted to determine how to comply. It is also a criterion based on inputs. The issue should be “DO students learn” not “HOW students learn.” Let’s focus on outcomes…even in the short-term. We can create outcomes-based safeguards that will protect both students and aid expenditures.

State Authorization for Out-of-State Activities

The Department of Education released a new federal regulation for state authorization of distance education that is set to go into effect on July 1, 2018. Watch for more from us on this issue in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, the House’s PROSPER Act suggests completely doing away with this regulation. Of course, they think that this will relieve institutions of seeking authorization in each state, but state regulations remain in place regardless of federal rules.

Some basic tenets underlying our recommendation:

  • States are charged with overseeing higher education activities within their borders.
  • This oversight provides necessary student protections.
  • Oversight is for ANY activity in the state, not just distance education.
  • An interstate reciprocity agreement is one means for an institution to obtain approval in a state.

Our recommendations are simple:

  • “…to better protect students, WICHE supports a requirement that postsecondary institution comply with authorization regulations for each state in which it serves students for eligibility to disburse federal financial aid.”
  • “…the U.S. Department of Education should recognize interstate reciprocity agreements as an acceptable method for an institution to obtain that authorization.”

In Conclusion…

There are many more issues that we must watch and comment upon. I highly recommend that you let your Representative or Senator know what you think. As an individual you can express your opinion. Volume counts.

drawing of a man holding a megaphone with explanation points coming out of itAnd…you might have an extra loud voice if you are in one of the twenty-four states with a member on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. They’re working now. Make your voice heard.

Many feel that reauthorization will not pass this year. That would break the record for longest time between such actions. We still need to pay attention and participate. Sometimes language introduced now survives until the final product. Let’s make sure it is good language.

Thank you,


Russ Poulin smiling while holding a small bat


Russell Poulin
Director, Policy & Analysis
WCET – The WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies
rpoulin@wiche.edu    @russpoulin




February 20, 2018

The Honorable Lamar Alexander

United States Senate

Chair, U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions

455 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Patty Murray

United States Senate

Ranking Member, U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions

154 Russell Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Alexander and Senator Murray,

We, the undersigned presidents of private not-for-profit and public colleges and universities across the nation, write to you to respectfully offer guidance as you revisit the distance education requirements within the Higher Education Act.

Over the past decade, higher education institutions of all sizes and status have embraced distance education/online learning as an innovative long-term strategy to meet student needs, deliver a more flexible, cost-effective form of academic instruction, and advance the Completion Agenda. Today, distance education has become a ubiquitous component of contemporary higher education with more than six million students taking at least one course at a distance.

Unfortunately, with the Higher Education Act last updated in 2008, federal regulations have been slow to keep up with advancing technology and innovations within the online learning sector. As a result, distance education is staring down an uncertain future – its long-term viability threatened by obsolete standards regarding “regular and substantive interaction” within federal statute. To create an environment open to sensible experimentation and that fosters innovations in products, programs, and services, Congress must revise the Higher Education Act accordingly.

Therefore, we are heartened by your desire to work in a bipartisan manner to draft a Senate reauthorization bill and your expressed openness to guidance on these provisions.

Republicans and Democrats share a commitment to increasing access, equity, affordability, and accountability, if by different means. We are confident the following revisions, which resulted from a collaborative effort of the undersigned to balance the needs of public and private institutions with adequate student and taxpayer protections, meet these obligations.

We encourage replacing the current definition of Distance Education with the following:  


Distance Education: Except as otherwise provided, the term “distance education” means education that provides students who are not in a physical classroom with substantive interaction, including, but not limited to, instruction, assessment, mentoring/advising, and learning support, enabled by ready access to qualified faculty, monitoring of student progress, and active intervention.

We recommend the following revision to the definition of Correspondence Course:

Correspondence Course: (1) A course provided by an institution under which the institution provides instructional materials, by mail or electronic transmission, including examinations on the materials, to students who are separated from the instructor. Interaction between the instructor and student and academic support, including access to qualified faculty, is limited, is not regular and substantive, and is primarily initiated by the student. Correspondence courses are typically self-paced and self-taught.

(2) If a course is part correspondence and part residential training, the Secretary considers the course to be a correspondence course.

(3) A correspondence course is not distance education.

Additionally, to enhance the ability of students to make informed decisions when choosing an educational provider, we recommend standardizing outcomes data at the institutional level and for each program of study:

Transparency: Make transparent outcomes data available by program at the undergraduate and master’s level for the following; (1) 100% and 150% graduation rates. (2) One-year retention rate. (3) Average annual cost for full-time attendance, broken out by tuition, fees, and living costs. (4) Federal student debt from tuition and fees.

The Higher Education Act serves as the single most important federal means to increase the capacity of low- and middle-income individuals to finance a post-secondary education. The Senate stands on the cusp of a historic opportunity. As you begin drafting the reauthorization bill, we strongly encourage you to consider these new and revised definitions.

Please contact us with any questions.

Respectfully submitted,

Dr. James N. Baldwin, President, Excelsior College

Dr. Michael M. Crow, President, Arizona State University

Dr. Sue Ellspermann, President, Ivy Tech Community College

Ed Klonoski, President, Charter Oak State College

Dr. Paul J. LeBlanc, President, Southern New Hampshire University

Scott D. Pulsipher, President, Western Governors University

Dr. Becky Takeda-Tinker, President, Colorado State University – Global Campus


CC Logo

Learn about WCET Creative Commons 4.0 License


What Should Reauthorization Be Like?

In February 2018, we had a question submitted through our WCETDiscuss email list about the Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. This prompted a discussion of how the reauthorization would or should impact distance education. The original question asked about academic integrity, specifically student identity authentication. Russ Poulin, our Director of Policy and Analysis, answered this question (see his adapted answer below).

Good question. You are probably looking at the PROSPER Act, which was the product of the House of Representatives. That bill was completely the product of one party and, while parts of it may survive, the resulting Higher Education Act will probably look much different.

I received inquiries from others who may be unclear that there already is a federal regulation regarding distance education and academic integrity. It is Chapter 34, 602.17(g), which places on accrediting agencies the responsibility to monitor institutions…

… I think the Senate (which is currently working on its version of reauthorization) will include language regarding student identity for distance education.

So…we can recommend it not be included, but we better be ready with alternatives. Our mere suggestion that reauthorization not address student identity will just be further proof to the naysayers that more regulation is needed.

If a regulation were to exist, what can we live with? Personally, I’d like to see the responsibility stay with the accrediting agencies. If anything needs to be beefed up it would be the gathering of evidence that such methods work. Like  many of you who wrote previously, given the ubiquity of technology and cheating, I don’t see why it should be limited to distance education.

Richard Nelson, the President of Nicolet College, provided a wonderful response to Russ’ question about “What Reathorization Should Look Like.” Upon our request, he adapted his WCETDiscuss response for today’s post. Thank you President Nelson for your thoughtful response and your challenge to WCET!

Enjoy the read and enjoy your day,

Lindsey Downs, WCET

What Would Reauthorization Be Like?

What would we like to see in a reauthorized Higher Education Act (HEA)? At first, visions of unprecedented innovation powered by boundless creativity and liberated from burdensome regulation come to mind. Then reality sets in and I grudgingly recognize the inevitability of regulation. However, if we’re diligent and a little bit lucky, sound regulation of limited scope may actually help the cause by mitigating some of the widespread skepticism in DC and most state capitols of anything other than counting butt-in-seat hours.

That skepticism isn’t surprising if you suspect, as I do, that a huge majority of members and staffers in all branches of government went directly from good high schools to very traditional and very enjoyable four-year residential college experiences. It’s what they know. It’s what “college” means to them. That’s neither good nor bad, it just is. Recognizing the frame of reference different people bring to the table can be immensely helpful as we seek to influence their perspectives.

Things Have Changed

Fortunately, we have many influential innovators among us, and we have much more evidence that online learning (or technology-enabled learning in general) is at least as effective as face-to-face than we did the last time HEA reauthorization came around. Other things have changed too:

  • Affordability is much more important than it was prior to the great recession.
  • Students are more sophisticated and have more choices.
  • Although higher education is late to the party compared to other economic sectors, the transfer of power from provider to consumer has arrived.
  • Instead of high unemployment, potentially crippling labor shortages challenges entire industries.
  • Elected officials and employers are rapidly realizing that the projected demand for well-prepared workers simply cannot be met, unless up-skilling the existing workforce is a big part of the solution.
  • And the only way the vast majority of currently employed adults can re-engage in higher education, no matter how much they might want to, is to offer programs with enough flexibility to accommodate real life.

What Can Higher Education Do?

When we consider affordability and flexibility, it’s no wonder that short-term credentials and competency-based programs are quickly gaining favor with students and employers. Their full potential will only be realized when they’re embraced by our regulators and accreditors, but it’s not an easy ask. They aren’t known for risk-tolerance, nor should they be. Identifying the risks of innovation and taking effective steps to mitigate them is our job, not theirs, and I suggest that organizations like WCET have the right people with the right motivation to do this work exceptionally well.

The risks of innovation come in two flavors, the risk of failure faced by the innovators and the risk of market disruption feared by the traditionalists.

In reality, however, defenders of the status quo will typically resist change by amplifying the risks innovation, so it turns out that that the two flavors aren’t really so different. Either way, reducing the risk of failure to a level that our regulators and accreditors can tolerate is prerequisite to overcoming resistance to change.

This brings us back to the discussion at hand. Certainly, we all agree that students need to represent themselves truthfully, whether we’re talking about what they know or who they are. Accordingly, let’s focus first on finding ways to provide strong assurances of student identity and of academic honesty. In so doing, we will eliminate perceived weaknesses in these areas as a justification for opposing change.

A Challenge for WCET

If well-crafted regulation can reduce the risks associated with innovation and help overcome resistance to change, the less thoughtful sort can just as easily drown the emerging seedlings of progress. How do we find the balance between making room for new models without throwing the door open to the unscrupulous opportunists who will exploit every perceived regulatory loophole? How do we encourage the kind of community-based collaboration that can move us all forward without spawning yet another regulation-fueled cottage industry of companies and organizations eager to monetize their own purported compliance solutions? Once again, I suggest that WCET is well-positioned to do this work and hold firmly to the belief that students come first. Always.

For me, I’d be thrilled to see the reauthorized HEA treat distance education not as an afterthought, but as our best bet to bring the benefits of higher education – enhanced social well-being and economic vitality – to more people in more places than ever before. And if we can avoid another “regular and substantive” fiasco while we’re at it, I’d take that as a win too.

Richard Nelson Nicolet College


Richard Nelson
Nicolet College




CC Logo

Learn about WCET Creative Commons 4.0 License


Distance Education Enrollment Growth—Major Differences Persist Among Sectors

The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) recently released its 2016 distance education data. This report shows course enrollment for distance education programs in the United States.

Today, we welcome Terri Taylor-Straut, Senior Research Analyst for WCET, to WCET Frontiers. Terri joins us to review some of the trends in the recently released information and to provide some intriguing conclusions that can be drawn based on several years of analysis on these data points. Thank you Terri for today’s post!

Enjoy the read and enjoy your day,

~Lindsey Downs, WCET

WCET has been analyzing and reporting on the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) data that reports distance education course enrollment since the data became available for the Fall 2012 term. These data are reported to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) annually as part of the IPEDS Fall Enrollment reporting. Based on the Fall 2013 data, WCET was the first organization to report that there are significant differences in the distance education course enrollment trends based on higher education sectors.

With the 2016 IPEDS distance education data now available, we have four years of sector data and many of the trends we first identified in 2013 have continued. Looking more closely at the sector trends illuminates some changes that might be missed by looking solely at consolidated distance education data.

Total Higher Education Enrollment for Fall 2016

Public institutions of higher education continue to educate nearly three-fourths (73.0% in 2016) of all enrolled students, regardless of mode of delivery. Private non-profits reported 20.9% of 2016 enrollment; private for-profits reported just 6.1% of enrolled students. Any discussion of sectors should be grounded in an understanding of the relative size of the sectors. Publics remain by far the largest sector, so small changes in the public sector impact the whole data set.


Chart showing 2016 total sector enrollment. 1,218,646 Private, For profit; 4,199,850 Private, Non Profit; 14,664,481 Public.


Total Reported Higher Education Enrollment: 2016 Total Sector Enrollment
  2016 Enrollment % of Total Enrollment
Public 14,664,481 73.0%
Private, Non-Profit 4,199,850 20.9%
Private, For-Profit 1,218,646 6.1%
Total 20,082,977  

Significant Variation in Results Over Time by Sector

an arrow with 4% textOverall higher education enrollment has declined by 4.0%, or 845,466 students, over the four-year period.

Public institutions reported a 2% decline over the period. Private for-profit institutions have declining enrollment at a rate of -34.4%. Private non-profit institutions have bucked the overall trend and increased total enrollment by 2.3% over the four-year period. The significant decline in reported distance education enrollment by for-profit institutions may be partly attributable to the negative attention those institutions received from the Department of Education and the media during the time period.

Total Reported Higher Education Enrollment: Sector Data Trends 2012 to 2016
  2012 2016 % Change
Public 14,966,033 14,664,481 -2.0%
Private, Non-Profit 4,105,872 4,199,850 2.3%
Private, For-Profit 1,856,538 1,218,646 -34.4%
Total 20,928,443 20,082,977 -4.0%

Definitions of Distance Education Enrollment

IPEDS reporting requires institutions to report two categories of distance education enrollment, “exclusively enrolled in distance education courses” and “enrolled in some but not all distance education courses”. In addition, WCET and others have continued to combine these two categories to match the historic Babson Survey Research Group (BSRG) category “enrolled in at least one online course”. Additional information about the methodology used is covered in the methodology section below. Sector enrollment in each of these three categories of distance education enrollment are reported for 2012 and 2016.

Students Enrolled Exclusively in Distance Education Courses: Sector Data Trends Private for profit 23%, public 52%, private, non profot 25%

Exclusively Distant Students are Growing for Public and Non-profit Sectors

Enrollment growth in “exclusively distance education” courses is significant at 13.2% in the four-year period, particularly considering that overall enrollment declined 4% in the same period. This is the category of distance education where we see the largest variation among the sectors over the four-year time frame.

The non-profit sector reported a whopping 54.7% growth in exclusively distance education enrollments in the period. Public institutions reported significant growth as well at 25.5%, while for-profit institutions reported a decline of 24.3%. Some non-profits experienced rapid growth during the period.


Students Enrolled Exclusively in Distance Education Courses: Sector Data Trends 2012 to 2016
  2012 2016 % Change
Public 1,231,816 1,545,708 25.5%
Private, Non-Profit 473,800 733,007 54.7%
Private, For-Profit 927,899 702,139 -24.3%
Total 2,633,515 2,980,854 13.2%

Students Taking Some Distance Courses at Publics Grows By Larger Headcount But Smaller Percentage

The four-year trend results for students enrolled in “some but not all” distance education courses are less dramatic than those reported for “exclusively in distance education courses” but they reveal similar trends. Non-profits again lead with 35.7% growth in these enrollments; public institutions reported nearly a 20% (19.7%) increase. The only sector to report declining enrollment over the period is for-profits with a 6.8% decline.

In analyzing these data, it is interesting to note the differences in the base enrollment numbers for each sector. The four-year growth in public students taking “some but not all” of their courses at a distance was 467,135. This comes close to equaling the total number of students enrolled in some distance courses (519,849) for the other two sectors. The percentage growth for non-profit institutions was much higher, but it started with a much lower enrollment base.

Students Enrolled in “Some But Not All” Distance Education Courses: Sector Data Trends 2012 to 2016
  2012 2016 % Change
Public 2,366,675 2,833,810 19.7%
Private, Non-Profit 290,897 394,668 35.7%
Private, For-Profit 134,319 125,181 -6.8%
Total 2,791,891 3,353,659 20.1%

For “At Least One” Distance Education Course, Non-Profits Overtake For-Profits as Second Biggest Sector

Since this category is simply the combination of the two categories of distance education enrollment that IPEDS requires, it is not surprising that the trends remain consistent, with non-profits reporting large gains at 47.5% in the four-year period; publics reporting healthy growth at 21.7%. The private for-profit sector is the only one to report enrollment decline at the rate of 22.1% between 2012 and 2016.

Distance education enrollment growth continues for the public sector. arrow2It is instructive to note that in 2012 for-profit institutions enrolled about 300,000 more distance students than the non-profits. In 2016, the non-profits are the second biggest sector and enroll about 300,000 students taking distance courses than does the for-profit sector.

Students Enrolled in “At Least One” Distance Education Courses: Sector Data Trends 2012 to 2016
  2012 2016 % Change
Public 3,598,491 4,379,518 21.7%
Private, Non-Profit 764,697 1,127,675 47.5%
Private, For-Profit 1,062,218 827,320 -22.1%
Total 5,425,406 6,334,513 16.8%


As we have previously noted, it is not our intention to place value judgments on the different sectors, but rather to continue to chip away at common myths that exist about distance education enrollments by sector. With four years of distance education now available, the trends are clearer. This information informs the marketplace as well as those responsible for regulatory oversight.

One trend that has never wavered is the fact that public institutions continue to educate the vast majority of students, both on campus and by distance education courses.


WCET has worked with other professional organizations with an interest in the IPEDS distance education data since the 2012 data became available. These organizations include e-Literate (particularly Phil Hill) and Babson Survey Research Group (BSRG). While these organizations have worked closely together, and at time shared IPEDS distance education data sets, slight differences in the data have been reported from year to year. The purpose of this blog is to illuminate trends in the distance education data across sectors and over the four-year period where IPEDS data is available. Comparisons to the historic data reported prior to 2012 by BSRG allows us to approximate the same measures used by the prior BSRG surveys. Phil Hill has done a fine job of illuminating the differences in the data and definitions used over time. We remain grateful for his continued work in this area.

A reader raised the question last year about the impact of the transition of for-profits to non-profit status. In response, Phil Hill analyzed the data to show the impact to be negligible. As those transitions happen in the future, those changes will need to be part of any sector-based analysis.

Readers may also be interested in the prior WCET blog posts and reports written focused on the IPEDS distance education data.

Headshot image of Terri


Terri Taylor-Straut
Senior Research Analyst
WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies


CC Logo

Learn about WCET Creative Commons 4.0 License


Supporting Faculty Through a Learning Community

How do faculty at your institution enhance their teaching skills or discuss best practices with their peers?

Today, we’re thrilled to learn about Louisiana State University’s Online Teaching Cohort program from Hala Esmail, the Manager of the Faculty Technology Center for LSU. This group meets several times a semester to hear presentations from experts, participate in demonstrations and hands-on activities, and discuss strategies with other cohort members. In her post, Hala also reviews the effectiveness of the cohorts and the lessons they’ve learned while offering the program. This is a great example of a professional development activity for your faculty and/or staff.

Thank you Hala for providing a wonderful overview of this highly successful program.

Enjoy the read and enjoy your day,

~Lindsey Downs, WCET

Since the 2011-2012 academic year, Louisiana State University (LSU) has experienced an approximate 500% increase in the number of blended and online courses offered. Many of the faculty offering these courses had no prior experience designing online courses. Through my work at the Faculty Technology Center (at the time I was an Educational Technology Consultant), faculty shared feelings of isolation and apprehension as they developed their blended and/or online courses. During this period of significant change, I began to think of ways to bring faculty together to share their expertise and experiences with the goal of supporting and enhancing online teaching at LSU.

During the 2015 Fall Semester, I collaborated with LSU Online and the LSU Learning and Teaching Collaborative to establish the LSU Online Teaching Cohort (OTC), a faculty learning community. According to Cox (2004), faculty learning communities can “include many bridges linking faculty to deep learning, early-career faculty to experienced faculty, isolated teachers to new colleagues, departments to departments, disciplinary curricula to general education, and faculty to students and staff” (p. 18).

The primary purpose of the OTC is to offer an opportunity for the LSU campus community and faculty and staff at peer institutions to engage in discussions and activities through which members can share and learn online teaching strategies and practices to enhance their courses. Participating in the OTC provides members with opportunities to:

  • Receive help from others to solve current online teaching challenges.
  • Discuss strategies to effectively manage blended and online courses.
  • Develop interdisciplinary collaborations/relationships with colleagues across campus and peer institutions.
  • Enhance teaching skills to increase student success and retention.
  • Be a part of a community of support amongst peers.

How it Works

The group meets three times a semester. Each meeting centers on a specific topic or focus previously determined by cohort members. Meetings can include presentations by guest speakers, demonstrations, or hands-on activities. Topics of past meetings include enhancing courses using video tools, engaging students in online discussions, facilitating group work online, enriching learning through feedback, and participating in dialogues with a faculty and student panels.

As interest grew on the LSU campus, it soon became clear that extending an invitation to others from surrounding campuses to join the cohort would not only provide a diverse perspective to the learning community, but would also assist those at other institutions with limited support resources. I sent invitations to faculty and staff at various institutions- focusing on those within the LSU system and/or within the Baton Rouge area. The cohort currently consists of over 170 members (primarily faculty and staff) across a variety of disciplines, including peers from Southern University, Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady University, LSU Alexandria, LSU Eunice, LSU Shreveport, and Baton Rouge Community College. A Moodle course was created to assist in the communication, resource sharing, archival, and assessment efforts of the cohort.

Connecting and interacting with students: let your personality shine online

Additionally, a Policy Working Group was established as a result of several concerns and challenges discussed at the initial meeting. The purpose of the group is to participate in conversations about online teaching policies at LSU from the faculty perspective and to provide policy recommendations to Academic Affairs for topics discussed to offer consistency of practice across the university. The group was influential in affecting change (e.g., updating a university policy related to attendance for online courses) and in the 2017 Fall Semester it was integrated under a different umbrella within the LSU organization.

Is it Effective?

Attendance records have allowed me to reach out to those with minimal attendance to ensure their needs are being met. A survey was administered to members after each academic year, providing feedback used to better serve the needs of the group. Responses from surveys included the following comments:

  • “I really enjoy the sense of community I encounter at each meeting. It is a great atmosphere to learn and grow together.”
  • “As of yet, I do not teach an online course; however, I feel being part of this cohort is preparing me for online teaching.”
  • “I was impressed with the [student] panel discussion on April 18th… Looking forward to being more active this coming year and learning how to integrate this into my teaching.”
  • “I love the online session. I have participated in most of them. It is very beneficial and I am applying some concepts/methods that I have learned.”

The graph below illustrates responses to the survey item “Please respond to the statements below regarding your experiences as a member of the Online Teaching Cohort.”

Membership experiences: average ratings

(Graph 1) Likert scale: 5= Strongly agree, 4= Agree, 3=Neither agree nor disagree, 2= Disagree, 1= Strongly disagree.

 This student panel event was one of the most popular OTC meetings. Two students joined us remotely from different parts of the country. Attendees commented on how much they enjoyed hearing from students about their experiences and perspectives.

This student panel event was one of the most popular OTC meetings. Two students joined us remotely from different parts of the country. Attendees commented on how much they enjoyed hearing from students about their experiences and perspectives.

To mix things up a bit, I led an OTC book club in the summer of 2017 targeted at faculty and staff interested in learning more about online teaching and learning. Members of the LSU campus as well as surrounding campuses participated. What made things more exciting was Rolando Garza from Texas A&M University-Kingsville (TAMUK) reached out to me after seeing this tweet and expressed his interest in forming a similar book club at his campus.

Image 3 Group Work

Attendees participate in a group activity during one of the OTC meetings.

He asked if we would be interested in collaborating. The book clubs at LSU and TAMUK connected through synchronous online meetings three times during the summer.

Lessons Learned and Ideas for Moving Forward

Are you interested in organizing a faculty learning community? It can be done with a minimal budget. Funds were used primarily to purchase refreshments for meetings and for books for the book club.

Since this is a collaborative effort, it provided the opportunity for the three units to share resources. While it has not demanded an extensive budget, it can take significant time in the organization and planning of meetings/events. I recommend being cognizant of this when implementing a similar community and further recommend that staff involved share these responsibilities.

Based on feedback from participants, several ideas for the future include collaborating with colleagues from other institutions, inviting guest speakers to present (via web conferencing), and incorporating more hands-on experiences during meetings/events. If you have any ideas or would like to share your experiences with being a part of a faculty learning community, I would love to hear it!

Author headshot


Hala W. Esmail
Manager, Faculty Technology Center
Louisiana State University
hesmai1@lsu.edu @halawesmail




Cited works:
Cox, M. D. (2004). Introduction to faculty learning communities. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, (97), 5–23.

CC Logo

Learn about WCET Creative Commons 4.0 License


The Power of Digital Inclusion

In October we opened the call for nominations for this year’s Digital Inclusion Award. The Digital Inclusion Award, co-sponsored by WCET and GlobalMindED, was first awarded last year. Today, WCET Frontiers is happy to welcome Mike Abbiatti, Executive Director of WCET  and the WICHE Vice President for Educational Technologies, to discuss the inspiration for the Digital Inclusion Award and the submission process for the award.

Technology has the power to change lives. We’re here to honor those who help learners  harness that power. Nominations for this year’s award are open until April 17th, 2018. Please nominate an individual (or even yourself!) for this award today. Please contact me at ldowns@wiche.edu if you have any questions on this or any of our other WCET Awards.

Thank you Mike for today’s post!

Enjoy the read and enjoy your day,

~Lindsey Downs, WCET

One of most elusive of all higher education goals is true inclusion. If you look up definitions of inclusion, you will find many, many definitions and contextual frameworks for assuring that everyone is offered the opportunities afforded by the pursuit of educational experiences. My favorite definition is that inclusion means cognitive diversity.

The Need: Radical Inclusion

Creating a more diverse and inclusive community of learners is one of the benefits of technology. When considering this concept, I am reminded of the Radical Inclusion as practiced by my fellow Burners (individuals who attend the Burning Man Festival in Nevada each summer).

10 principles of burning man

10 Philosophical Principles of Burning Man – BurningMan.org

Radical Inclusion stipulates that anyone can attend and enjoy the unique event without regard to any of the commonly held biases designed to exclude people from events, activities, or opportunities. When I thought about funding a commonality that brings Burners together each year to endure a desert lifestyle, it was clear that the Burning Man Ten Philosophical Principles served to create the community (albeit a temporary one) that thrives on a common set of beliefs and tools. So, how could I relate this epiphany to our First Generation, undeserved, or otherwise disenfranchised learner populations? Well, we need to create a common set of beliefs and tools with which to build a society. These common beliefs can be structured around the development of a Digital society and technologies that empower and enable the learners to build and sustain the world they seek to enjoy. Thus, the term DIGITAL INCLUSION came to mind.

The Solution: Digital Inclusion

The natural next step was to develop a process through which we could identify, and reward individuals, programs, and organizations who have pioneered the positive uses of technology in such a way that Digital Inclusion was clearly demonstrated. Hence the WCET and GlobalMindED Digital Inclusion Award was born. GMlogoOur partners at GlobalMindED do a wonderful job of aligning worldwide support for students of all ages, ethnicity, socioeconomic level, and personal backgrounds as they seek access to educational opportunities and, therefore, economic opportunities.

Digital Inclusion has nothing to do with infrastructure or devices, but everything to do with what learners actually DO with the infrastructure or devices. The Digital Inclusion Award is unique in the emphasis on positive outcomes related to the use of technology and not simply attempting to provide funding for students to purchase technology or gain access to high speed Internet services. People of all ages are investing in personal technology at an ever-increasing rate. The time has come to recognize excellence in the use of the digital tools. The Digital Inclusion Award was created and was launched in 2017, and the application process is described below:

Digital Inclusion Principles:

Digital Inclusion is about leveraging “mindware,” not hardware/software;

Digital Inclusion is one component of a larger communications ecosystem, not a standalone concept; Digital Inclusion should be the overall goal of technological evolution.

Submission Process:

  • Candidates shall submit two (2) verifiable examples of Digital Inclusion.
  • Candidates shall submit a Statement of Digital Inclusion philosophy.
  • Self-nominations and nominations of others are both accepted.
  • All nomination materials should be submitted via our nomination form.

Digital Inclusion Selection Process:

A five (5) member selection committee will use the following requirements to select the winner of the Digital Inclusion award. Each candidate will be evaluated on a 10pt scale (with 1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest). Candidates should also keep the Digital Inclusion Principles listed above in mind when submitting their application.

Committee Selection Criteria:

The submission…

Encourages collaborative use of digital resources in specific activities.

  • Empowers participants to use digital resources as one component of a larger communications ecosystem, not a standalone concept.
  • Actively establishes and sustains an expectation of digital inclusion in the candidate’s operational environment.

Support for the Digital Inclusion Award has been verbalized by many leaders in the academic community.

“It’s critical that we close higher education equity gaps to ensure our future workforce and civic success. Providing accessible pathways is not only the right thing to do, but the only way to close those gaps,” says Joe Garcia, president of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE), WCET’s parent organization. “Fortunately, some of our best scholars and practitioners are making this possible through technology and innovation. Our association with the Digital Inclusion Award is highly aligned with WICHE’s goal of increasing higher education access and affordability for all, and I’m thrilled that we can honor and champion this work.”

Glass plaque for the 2017 award winner Dr. Nader Vadiee. Plaque reads "recognizing excellence in advancing digital inclusion for all learners."

2017 Digital Inclusion Award Plaque

From Dr. Nader Vadiee, inaugural winner of Digital Inclusion Award, said the following about Digital Inclusion:

“I have bad news and good news. The bad news is that the millennial generation is going to face daunting challenges and will encounter complex problems to solve. These complex problems include the global environment, energy resources, economy, cultural, conflicts, health, etc. The good news is that they will be equipped with more powerful tools in their toolbox to face these challenges. They will understand, measure, represent, and model, with high resolution and precision, and find surgical solutions to the problems. Their tools include innovative digital and computational tools, VR, AR, and big data technologies.”

Andriel Dees, Director, Diversity and Inclusion at Capella University, and one of the judges of the 2017 Digital Inclusion Awards spoke to me about the importance of this award in bringing awareness to digital inclusion, saying that “The digital inclusion award is an important statement about taking technology into communities that have not had access and opportunity to thrive and greatly enhance our STEM fields.”

Finally, Carol Carter, Founder & Executive Director of GlobalMindED, which co-created the Digital Inclusion Award with WCET, summarized digital inclusion and the digital inclusion award perfectly when she said that… “The Digital Inclusion Award represents the heart of the GlobalMindED movement in that it recognizes the courage, the innovation and the generous leadership needed to close the equity gap through technology solutions that put students and graduates first. In the age of technology, those students who are empowered to self-direct, self-discover, self-initiate, and collaborate with others will be able to create work for themselves and others, add value to any situation, and solve the world’s most challenging problems. GlobalMindED is honored to partner with WCET to recognize those individuals who are setting this important standard for the impact and effectiveness of technology which can move the levers of access through empowering the humans to contribute at the highest level personally and professionally.”

WCET is looking forward to celebrating this year’s Digital Inclusion Award winner at the 2018 GlobalMindED conference in June. Join us for this outstanding conference!

In Summary

We all need to consider RADICAL INCLUSION as we set out to create, operate, and scale educational opportunities for an ever-increasing population of learners.  Successful Learning, like successful leadership, knows no gender, no race, no culture, no socioeconomic strata, and is intensely personal. There is no “one size fits all.” Radical Inclusion is a critical component of success in our complex society.


Headshot of Mike Abbiatti


Mike Abbiatti
Executive Director
WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies




CC Logo

Learn about WCET Creative Commons 4.0 License


Open Textbooks and OER in Colorado: Lots of Interest and Great Promise

This week on WCET Frontiers Blog, Tanya Spilovoy, Ed. D., Director of Open Policy for WCET, discusses the outcomes of the Colorado Open Educational Resources (OER) Council recent work in open textbook initiatives, her research and consulting role with WCET, and how OER can be leveraged to meet state higher education goals. WCET is thrilled with the accomplishments of our Z Initiative (see Tanya’s description below).

Enjoy the read!

-Lindsey Downs, WCET

“Our goal is simple. Quote: “Our goal is simple. We want to increase student affordability and success here in Colorado,” said Kim Hunter Reed, executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education. “WCET has been great in supporting and informing the work of our OER Council as they developed a plan to help us get there. We’ll keep striving to be a leader in this work.”We want to increase student affordability and success here in Colorado,” said Kim Hunter Reed, executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education. “WCET has been great in supporting and informing the work of our OER Council as they developed a plan to help us get there. We’ll keep striving to be a leader in this work.”

Summary of the Work

Colorado college and university students could soon experience lower textbook costs due to coordinated leadership and potential state funding. This is good news for student leaders who have been advocating for lower textbook costs. “CU-Boulder has a plan, a working group, and chancellor buy-in, but we are hopeful that the legislature will fund the efforts for open educational resources on a state-wide level,” Troy Fossett, President of Internal Affairs, University of Colorado Student Government. Colorado Department of Higher Education (CDHE) Open Educational Resources Council, a state-wide group established by SB17-258, addressed concerns and worked on a solution. As the consultant, I worked with the OER Council and WCET team to design and deploy three Colorado-wide surveys to evaluate the existing use of open educational resources by public institutions of higher education, analyze the data, and write a report with survey results and recommendations for the future. image of quote: “CU-Boulder has a plan, a working group, and chancellor buy-in, but we are hopeful that the legislature will fund the efforts for open educational resources on a state-wide level,” Troy Fossett, President of Internal Affairs, University of Colorado Student Government.The OER Council then used my report, Open Educational Resources in Colorado, to draft a plan and make recommendations to the Joint Budget Committee and the Education Committees of the Colorado General Assembly.

The OER Council requested $2,820,070 in funding to launch a Colorado OER Initiative to increase awareness, adoption, and creation of open educational resources. Recommendations include offering grants for institutions and individuals, professional development, the establishment of a permanent State OER Council, yearly reports, and a full-time staff position at the CDHE. While we eagerly await good news from Colorado’s legislature, let’s talk about how OER supports the state’s higher education goals.

What were the project highlights?

  1. Survey Participation was Remarkably High. Three surveys were used to gather input from a variety of stakeholders:
    • Colorado Public Systems of Higher Education OER Survey—This survey was designed to capture OER activities and initiatives originating from and managed by system offices. Survey instructions and questions explicitly asked system offices not to include OER activities at the campuses because each campus would respond separately.
    • Colorado Public Institutions of Higher Education OER Survey—To meet the legislative objective to “review and evaluate the extent to which each public institution of higher education is using Open Educational Resources and options for and obstacles to increasing the use of Open Educational Resources in public institutions of Higher Education.” Of the 31 separate public institutions of higher education in Colorado, 27 responded.
    • Solicitation of Individual Input OER Survey—3,009 surveys were received from a broad sample of stakeholders. Higher education students made up nearly 60% of respondents who took the solicitation of Individual Input Survey. The next largest category was “Faculty” (19.9 percent), when categories of “tenured faculty, tenure-track faculty, non-tenure-track faculty” were added together. “College parent was the third largest percentage of respondents at 9.5 percent. Photo of graph from report showing roles of those who took the survey. Nontenure track faculty, 202, 8%; tenure track, 103, 4%; tenured fac 181, 7%; college parent 232, 10%; HIgher ed student, 1464, 60%
  2. There are OER champions doing great work on Colorado campuses, but they need coordination, funding, resources and professional development to make a larger impact for students. System offices and institutions said they would support a variety of open educational resources and/or open textbook activities if they had adequate funding and support. In addition, 100 percent of system and institutions reported that they would support workshops for faculty, librarians, and campus OER champions.
  3. OER aligns with Colorado Rises, the Colorado Department of Higher Education (CDHE) Masterplan, which identifies four strategic goals to advance education and talent development in the state. The CDHE has established several student-focused initiatives focused on meeting the objective: “By 2025, 66 percent of the adult population will attain postsecondary credentials aligned with their interests, equipping them for success.”

OER can help achieve Colorado’s Goals.

“Use of OER is a very clear strategy to speak to two very important concerns/barriers to education for today’s learner populations: cost and convenience. Judiciously applying OER to these two critical decision-making issues can lower the barriers for a wide variety of students.” Mike Abbiatti, Executive Director, WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies.

A well-executed open educational resources initiative would help educators in Colorado meet their educational goals to improve quality, ensure affordability, and promote access to postsecondary education. Nationally, the cost of textbooks has risen more than the rate of inflation, and in Colorado alone, total student textbook costs were estimated to be around $148 million in 2016. Other states, like Georgia, North Dakota, and Oregon, have seen significant student savings in the first year of implementation; Colorado also wants to see a big return on investment.image of quote: {“Use of OER is a very clear strategy to speak to two very important concerns/barriers to education for today's learner populations: cost and convenience. Judiciously applying OER to these two critical decision-making issues can lower the barriers for a wide variety of students.” Mike Abbiatti, Exec Director of WCET

In addition to cost savings, research has shown that OER can positively impact student outcomes. Feldstein et. al found that students enrolled in courses using OER had better grades and lower failure and withdrawal rates than students enrolled in courses using traditional textbooks. Tidewater Community College students have shown to achieve higher course retention and grades in courses using OER. Adopting, adapting, and authoring OER has been shown to reduce costs for students and allows faculty the freedom to innovate and customize their curriculum.


According to Open Educational Resources in Colorado, the state is poised to launch a successful initiative due to the convergence of four factors:

  1. Colorado college students are interested in reducing their cost of college attendance;
  2. The CDHE’s Four Strategic Goals align well with an OER Initiative;
  3. Public institutions of higher education administrators and faculty are willing to explore the use of OER;
  4. The Colorado Legislative Council is evaluating options for policy and funding. I am so grateful that I was able to be part of the OER work in Colorado, and I’m eagerly looking forward to what they will do next.

If you would like to learn more about how WCET’s Z Initiative, focused on helping systems and institutions implement open textbook programs, contact me. I would love to help!


Tanya Spilovoy


Tanya M. Spilovoy
Director of Open Policy
WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies



CC Logo

Learn about WCET Creative Commons 4.0 License


Professional Licensure Notifications & Disclosures for Out-of-State Courses/Programs

It seems like the complexity of compliance requirements increases each year. Luckily, we have WCET staff to provide updates on education regulations as we need them. Today, Cheryl Dowd, our Director of the State Authorization Network (SAN), is here to discuss requirements for professional licensure notifications and requirements for disclosures for out-of-state courses and/or programs. I appreciate Cheryl’s reminder that the focus of our programs and our compliance with these regulations is student academic success.

Thank you Cheryl for walking us through these requirements.

Enjoy the read and enjoy your day,

Lindsey Downs, WCET

Why must institutions provide notifications and disclosures regarding professional licensure to students participating in courses and programs outside of the home state of the institution?

As an institution of higher education, faculty and staff should strive to serve the students to the best of their ability in helping those students reach academic success. This goal includes the institutional motivation to provide the information needed for the student to pursue his or her chosen career.

Photo of a smiling nurse

That responsibility extends beyond the completion of the education program to helping the student understand the steps necessary to meet the prerequisites for that career.

Compliance requirements, with the variety of regulatory agencies, entities, and boards for the out of state activities of our institutions, seem to be increasing in complexity. In addition to compliance, we need to be observant of the legal and moral obligations to our students. How do we separate these obligations and address them? We will provide four motivations for the institution to provide information and processes that serve the student to achieve their intended academic and career goals:

  • Regulatory obligation.
  • SARA obligation.
  • Liability mitigation/avoidance for the institution.
  • Institution’s moral obligation for the student.

Regulatory Obligation

As of this date, there are currently enforceable Federal regulations regarding Misrepresentation. Additionally, there are released Federal regulations that require public and individual notifications to students for distance education programs offered outside of the home state of the institution. These new required notifications are to be in place by July 1, 2018, when the released Federal regulation becomes effective.

The Federal Misrepresentation regulations maintain that an institution participating in Title IV HEA programs, must not engage in substantial misrepresentation. Misrepresentation is defined in 34 CFR 668.71 to include any false, erroneous, or misleading statement to a prospective or enrolled student and “substantial misrepresentation” is any misrepresentation on which a person could reasonably be expected to rely, or has reasonably relied, to the person’s determent. This definition has been interpreted to include passive omissions leading to misrepresentation in addition to active statements.

The Misrepresentation Federal regulation further addresses, in 34 CFR 668.72, the variety of types of misrepresentation regarding educational programs. The variety of types of misrepresentation by the institution, listed in the regulations, includes whether successful completion of the course instruction qualifies the student to pursue licensure, certification, or conditions to secure employment in a recognized occupation for which the educational program is represented to prepare the students.

In addition to Federal Misrepresentation regulations, the released new Federal regulations for state authorization of distance education (with an effective date of July 1, 2018) includes required public and individual notifications and disclosures for prospective and enrolled students participating in a solely distance education program and residing in a state in which the institution is not physically located (proposed new section 34 CFR 668.50). Among the required notifications is the disclosure of applicable educational prerequisites for professional licensure and certification for that program in the state which the student resides. Additionally, the institutions must decide whether the program meets the applicable educational prerequisites.

If the program does not meet the educational prerequisites, a statement to that effect must be made and an Individual disclosure made to the student. If the student decides to enroll anyway, the institution is required to obtain written acknowledgement from the student that she or he received the disclosure.

Therefore, a Federal regulatory obligation exists to provide professional licensure notifications and disclosures to prospective and enrolled students if the institution participates in Title IV HEA programs.

SARA Obligation

The State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA) addresses the SARA participating institution’s obligation to provide all students, applicants, and potential students who have contacted the institution as to whether the course or programs meets state licensing requirements. Section 5.2 of the SARA Manual indicates that SARA has no effect on professional licensing requirements.

However, it places an additional obligation on the institution to be forth coming about whether the course or program leading to professional licensure meets the requirements in the state where the student resides. The student must be provided this information in writing. If the institution, after due diligence, is unable to confirm whether the course or program meets the requirements, the institution must provide the contact information for the licensing board and advise the student to determine whether the program meets the requirements where the student lives. Some institutions have decided that they need to little work in determining licensing requirements and can leave that responsibility to the student. Discussions with SARA leadership indicate that the student option is a last resort after the institution has exhausted its options in determining the applicability of its program to a license or certification.

Liability mitigation/avoidance for the institution

From a private legal action standpoint, one may assert that the institution bares responsibilities for a program leading to professional licensure. In exchange for the student’s tuition, the institution has a contractual obligation to offer the programmatic aspects that lead the student to pursue the post educational steps (examinations, applications, etc.) to the profession as designated by the licensure board. The inability of the institution’s program to provide the required prerequisites could be a breach of contract unless there has been full disclosure that the institution’s program does not meet the prerequisites of the state where the student is located.

The new Federal regulation requires an acknowledgement from the student regarding an individual disclosure, such as the program not meeting the licensure board prerequisites. Not only would the acknowledgement be required by Federal regulation, it is a good practice to show acquiescence by the student with full knowledge of the limitations of the program. The ability for a student to claim a breach of contract is mitigated by the disclosure.

Institution’s moral obligation for the student

As we previously discussed, the institution’s goal should be to serve the students to the best of their ability to reach academic success. If a student is choosing the institution to prepare them to pursue a particular professional field, the institution must accept the moral obligation to provide the necessary information regarding the prerequisites to pursue that professional field.

students meeting Consider the inexperienced student vs. the academic department offering the program. Who do you think has better access to understand how to research and determine the prerequisites in another state? We have often heard that it should be the student’s responsibility to determine licensure applicability. But how is a student who has not taken the first course in their chosen profession supposed to know how a curriculum (which they did not design nor do they understand) matches their state’s academic requirements?

Consider also, the institution chose to offer the program in another state. Shouldn’t the institution have the responsibility to determine if the program the institution chose to offer in that state meets the prerequisites in the state? The institution is not obligated to admit or enroll that student.


Institutions have shared that this process of researching and coordinating with state licensure boards is difficult. That may be true.

There has been some progress at some institutions to coordinate this research work. At least one, if not more, institutional members of the WCET State Authorization Network (SAN) have coordinated with the academic departments to research their department’s own programs and prerequisites in the states where the programs are offered. The academic departments are then sharing the research with the institution’s compliance staff member as the central point for obtaining and managing the information to make the required disclosures. Additionally, there are many discussions among higher education associations such as WCET, SAN, and NC-SARA about reaching out to licensure boards to help them understand that the institutions are seeking this information and to make efforts to make the information accessible.

It is also true that the released Federal regulations regarding notifications and disclosures need some clarification or might not go into effect at all There have been many requests for clarification from WCET, SAN, and NC-SARA. If the new state authorization regulation is delayed or rescinded, your institution will still be subject to SARA (if you are a member), state, legal, and moral obligations.

Rest assured that these organizations will continue to seek clarification on regulatory obligations. There will also be further assistance to institutions with coordinated contacts and practice acts to simplify the research efforts as much as possible to meet the institutional obligations to supply students with the necessary information to achieve their goals.

Cheryl Dowd


Cheryl Dowd
Director, State Authorization Network (SAN)
WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies




CC Logo

Learn about WCET Creative Commons 4.0 License


Distance Ed Growth – Access is a Big Motivator, But It’s Complicated

Distance education enrollment data continue to show growth. But, we wondered why. Is the motivation to serve more students, to make money, both, neither, or a complex set of other issues? We had heard many theories, often delivered with absolute certainty, but little proof.

One of the reasons I wanted to ask these questions was my experience on a recent panel. Another presenter claimed that colleges had only one interest in distance education: money. I’m not that cynical. While I agree that we can’t lose money, that is a damning message about higher education. Then again, we do have college athletics, so maybe I’m wrong.

In mid-January, we asked WCET members for their opinions about the reasons for growth. And they delivered. We received 192 responses to our two-question survey. This post highlights their thinking. All quotes are verbatim. See the entire list of responses.

The Data

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) recently released higher education enrollment numbers for the Fall of 2016. Phil Hill of e-Literate wrote a nice overview (Fall 2016 IPEDS First Look: Continued growth in distance education in US) highlighting the distance education enrollment growth since 2012, when NCES began collecting that data. Taking the data from Phil’s post, it is easy to calculate the enrollment growth over the last five years.

2012 2016 % Growth
All Students 20,237,911 20,209,781 -0.1%
Exclusive DE 2,287,168 2,974,836 30.1%
Some DE 2,694,715 3,325,743 23.4%
At least one DE 4,981,883 6,300,579 26.5%
No DE 15,256,028 13,909,202 -8.8%

As you can see, while the number and percentage of ALL students enrolled in higher education is slightly down, the number of students taking all courses at a distance has grown by 30.1%. Meanwhile, the number and percentage of students taking no distance courses has decreased.

Before getting to the results of our survey, let me provide a caveat that does not need to be stated, but I will anyway. In the comment part of the survey, several people said that the answers would vary greatly depending on the institution and local circumstances. Yup, that’s true. As with any survey, we are trying to discern trends or interesting outliers. While local experiences may differ greatly from national tendencies, we can still try to discern commonalities and trends. Oh yes, a second caveat…this survey is unscientific. Many are not, but I have the good manners to say so. On with the results…

Gauging Feelings on Cannibalization, Access vs. Money, and Hybrid Growth

first question in survey "In my opinion, the growth in students studying completely at a distance..."The first question sought to obtain member opinions about common themes that we have heard in those observing distance education enrollment growth.

Is Distance Ed Cannibalizing On-campus Enrollments?

Some respondents worry that the growth in distance education is not really adding new students, but is instead cannibalizing existing enrollments. Of those responding:

  • More than one-third (33.3%) agreed that face-to-face enrollments suffer because of the increases in distance education.
  • Close to half (45.8%) thought that distance education did not affect face-to-face enrollment and they were typically serving students whom they would not otherwise enroll.
  • Others decided not to choose either option, presumably because they thought both or neither was true. Some may have come from fully online institutions.

Graph of answers to question "growth in stduents studying completely at a distance." Expense of F2F enrollments (33.3%), does not affect F2F enrollments as distance students do not come to campus (45.8%), is primarily focused on + funding over serving new students (19.3%), is primarily focused on serving new students over + funding (27.1%), is leading to more blended/hybrid options (64.6%)Unless the institutions planned to change their enrollment patterns towards more distance education, having a third of respondents think that increases are coming at the “expense of face-to-face enrollments” may indicate a political problem on some campuses.

Is the focus on distance education focused on serving “new” students or is it a “cash cow”?

In the open-ended responses reported later in this post, both opinions are offered. Less than half of the survey-takers decided to provide a response on these two questions. That may indicate uncertainty about the motivations resulting in the growth in distance education enrollment, belief that there were other primary factors, or (as one respondent suggested) that the options were poorly worded. For those who responded:

  • One-in-five (19.3%) respondents felt that their institution was primarily interested in additional funding.
  • Just over one-quarter (27.1%) of respondents felt that the primary focus was on serving new students.

Is distance education growth leading to more blended/hybrid learning options?

The NCES distance education enrollment statistics gathered in its IPEDS surveys do not ask about blended/hybrid learning. WCET has suggested they do so, as there is much anecdotal evidence that use of these modalities is increasing. Nearly two-thirds (64.6%) of survey respondents agreed that blended/hybrid options are growing.

Members had Much to Say About the Growth in Distance Education Enrollments

question 2: please provide opinions that you have about the growth in students who are studying completely at a distance.We wanted to allow members to give their opinions about their views about growth without trying to lead them too much than we already did in the first question. And they delivered. More than three-quarters (75.7%) provided comments. Below are both the most common responses and some less common responses that provided interesting, insightful, or unique perspectives. I tried to roughly categorize the comments. Some comments counted in more than one category and other comments eluded classification.

Access and Convenience are the Primary Reasons for Growth

Eighty respondents cited access and/or convenience as the main purpose for their distance education offerings. Here is a sample of their quotes:

  • “Convenience! The growth and shift are all about focusing on the student and their needs and availability.”
  • “Students often need to be able to work while completing a degree at the same time. This often means that distance education is the best fit for this growing number of students.”
  • “I can get the exact degree that I am looking for, not ‘something comparable’ and I am more worried about getting the education over getting the ‘college experience.’”
  • “Offering distance education courses also help our face to face students complete their degrees and for some in a timely fashion. These programs do not cannibalize or compete one another, they assist students in completing their degrees.”
  • “The reality is that–at least for our institution–the majority of these students are within 100 miles of the residential campus. Last fall, this was 58%, with 38% being fewer than 50 miles from campus). Before “distance” education, they would have either commuted or just not have participated at all.”
  • “We will continue to see more distance growth than face-to-face. Circumstances of the world we live in now may require people to get more instruction throughout their lives. They are not going to keep physically coming back to universities to update their skills or change careers.”
  • “If we want an educated populace, we have to do all that we can to improve access to education. Modality of instruction is not just a technological issue, nor is it just a pedagogical issue. Perhaps most importantly, it is an equity issue.”

The number and tone of these replies was heartening to me as respondents seemed to be focused on a desire to reach more students. Additionally, respondents seemed aware of the changing nature of students – both in demographic shifts and in the experience students are seeking or require due to life’s demands.

There were some that were more focused on the money. Let’s see what they had to say.

For Some the Focus is on Growing Funding

There were just thirteen respondents who cited additional funding as the main driver for distance education. Given the huge focus by both the public and non-profit sectors in growing their enrollments, certainly shoring up eroding funding sources is part of the mix. Some of the opinions offered:

  • “From the student perspective it’s all about access and fully DE programs offer the flexibility they want and the market needs. From the institution’s perspective it’s about revenue and offering programs that will expand their ‘pie.’”
  • “My institution believes it will save it from all the state funding cuts, but it has not invested the appropriate amount of money in technology to grow at the rate it had hoped to. Distance ed is not cheap to offer.”
  • “Mainly targeting international students for the increased tuition money since the political environment does not encourage international students to come to the US anymore.”
  • “I think there are more distance students because there are more seats open for them, and these are being aggressively marketed, often with the help of OPM companies. The marketing is being done by universities looking for “cash cows.” This is an opinion that is backed by what I am hearing from my peers.”
  • “I am very in support of distance education and believe it has tremendous potential and reaches students who need it. At the same time, I’m concerned that Universities tend to view it as only the “cash cow” and it becomes a business rather than education. At the same time, that business approach has allowed a lot of new and interesting things. So, like all phenomenon, it’s never just one thing.”

It’s Not an Either/Or Between Access and Money

Several took a broader, more complex point-of-view:

  • “This is not an either/or. Offering flexible options for students leads to better retention, persistence and time to degree.”
  • “I checked both ‘…focused on funding…’ & ‘…focused on new students…’ because our university seems to be equally focused on both – we desperately need more funding, AND our mission is to serve rural areas of the state. We seem to be making reasonable progress in both areas.”
  • “I would say that it’s not as cut and dried as ‘coming at the expense of FTF.’ Most of our students take a mix of online and FTF courses. They turn to online when they cannot get classes they need on ground due to conflicts with scheduling (due in part to their own schedules) or filled classes on-ground.”
  • “I did not select either of the first two options above because each is partially true, partially false. Indeed, we are seeing a growth in exclusive DE students that does not affect our F2F enrollments, but we are also seeing an even larger growth in our resident students taking DE courses because of convenience, scheduling conflicts, and/or full classes. While this decreases the F2F enrollments, it does not decrease the overall headcount of our resident students.”

What About Quality?

There were some concerns voiced about growth and advice about how to address it:

  • “It is critically important that we ensure that the same academic rigor exists for distance learning and face to face. It is also important to provide adequate student support services to ensure student success.”
  • “Brick and mortar will have to be better to keep enrollments.”
  • “To prioritize spending in light of shrinking budgets, many institutions will need to assess whether they can afford to maintain equitable access to quality student services and support for both fully online students and on-campus/hybrid students. Service to fully online students requires different hours of operation, access modes and procedures than service to on-campus or hybrid students. Providing consistent quality support to both groups, requires investment in both operational configurations.”

Growth Has Many Additional Components

Besides access and money, respondents provided additional suggestions for factors that drive the growth of distance education:

  • Solving space problems: “As our face-to-face population grows, providing more online course delivery and hybrid courses are the only way to cope with the lack of additional classroom space. Most of our online students also come to face-to-face classes on campus.”
  • Program choices: “The discipline students are studying really make a difference. Some students who would have previously taken face to face courses now have online options which they are choosing.”
  • It’s complicated: “Ultimately, I think we are trying to herd cats here. Also, there’s too much nuance covered up in those aggregate numbers. Any attempts to convey this information should be contextualized with statements about how the Web is generally adding new modalities and new opportunities for learning, but tracking those changes is complicated.”
  • Students are more tech-savvy: “It may be because of the “digital” generation(s) and their technological savvy and/or the busy work life that many students have.”
  • Employer acceptance: “Don’t overlook the growing acceptance by employers of this modality in job preparation. As online courses are viewed as more legitimate, it makes sense that more students are willing to invest in them.”
  • Perceptions of the value of education: “The value of education has slipped; more precisely, the perception of the value of education has slipped, reducing it in our standings of personal priorities. Therefore, rather than altering one’s life to focus completely on education as priority one, education can integrate neatly and less painfully into and among other life priorities. Oddly enough, even with perceptions down, the need for expanded education has never been higher.”
  • More older students: “Can we disaggregate the IPEDS data by age? I believe the students studying completely at a distance are likely older (working, etc. also). “
  • Easier to cheat: “At my institution of 1500+ sections online each semester, only a tiny fraction use any kind of proctoring so the assessments for those that don’t use the proctoring likely have a greater number of cheaters…While the flexibility of DE is obviously of great benefit, I wonder how many take DE classes where there may be a perception (and in many cases a reality) that cheating is easier.”
  • Fewer high school students: “It is very complex, including declining numbers of high school graduates who would have traditionally taken a college prep program…”
  • Less money for students: “Fewer middle class parents have the funds to sponsor full time students thanks to the direction our government is headed in.”

The Promise of Hybrid

Respondents to question 1 indicated that they envision great growth in blended/hybrid options. Here are some of their observations:

  • “I personally believe that the best learning happens in hybrid courses.”
  • “Our face-to-face numbers have been dropping while our hybrid or online classes are rising. No one seems to want to sit in a classroom for that many hours a week.”
  • “Students are also more technically aware, sometimes more than faculty, and are asking for more web-based materials. This is encouraging the expansion of hybrid options (replacing seat time), as well as ‘web enhanced’ (no seat time replacement, but materials are available electronically).”
  • “We do see the growth of blended/hybrid combinations: 1) low-residency in-person with online, and 2) asynchronous online with synchronous distance education (video-conferencing).”
  • “College administrators and their appointed online-instruction service-providing staff still don’t understand the critical difference between blended and completely online and rely on in-service platforms (F2F workshops, synchronous webinars, etc.) that inadvertently model and promote blended instead of online practices. Their rationale is that this is what traditional teachers will respond to. The problem is that they’re playing to teachers’ fears and prolonging in-person and synchronous methods that go against the grain of the exponential growth in preference for online asynchronous (anywhere-anytime) services. Instead of dipping their toes in the online waters, colleges need to jump in and learn how to swim.”

In Conclusion…

Thank you to everyone who responded. As we can see, the answers are not simple and will vary from place to place. Additionally, there is rarely a single motivation for any action.

My takeaways…

  • Most of our members are primarily motivated to help students who were not previously within higher education’s reach.
  • We should conduct more short, pop surveys.

For you…

  • What is your take on these questions now that you have seen the responses?
  • What other issues should we examine through short surveys?



Photo of Russ Poulin
Russell Poulin
Director, Policy & Analysis

WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies
rpoulin@wiche.edu  @RussPoulin


CC Logo

Learn about WCET Creative Commons 4.0 License


Senate Weighs Innovation and Access Options in Reauthorizing Higher Ed Act

The Senate is moving ahead with deliberations on its version of a bill to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA). Yesterday morning, the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee held a hearing focusing on “access and innovation.” Much was said about such issues as competency-based education, distance education, accountability, supporting students outside the classroom, and consumer protection. We thought you would enjoy some background on the testimony provided and the main themes we were hearing.

Opening Remarks Signal a Bipartisan Effort

To begin with, the Senate will tend toward more bipartisan solutions than the House. Its version of reauthorization (the PROSPER Act) was completely a Republican product. While the Senate Committee leaders from both parties have their own points-of-view, there is a greater sense of cooperation than we see most anywhere else in the Capitol these days.

Senator Alexander (TN), Chair, HELP Committee

The Senator has been both a university president and the Secretary of Education, so he has an uncommon knowledge of higher education issues among our Congressional members. The bottom line for him is: “How can we get the Federal Government out of the way so that we can meet our students’ needs?”

Senator Patty Murray (WA), Ranking Minority Member, HELP Committee

The Senator is very concerned about expanding opportunities for low-income, minority, homeless, working adult, and other populations not well served by higher education. While she is interested in access, that is not sufficient. She seeks to help students navigate program choices, graduate on-time, and have credentials that improve their careers and the community, at large.

Accountability was a key issue. Developing appropriate “guard-rails” to protect students was a phrase she introduced and was echoed throughout the hearing. She felt online and competency-based education should be part of the conversation, but that students in these programs often are not given the help they need to succeed.text reading: PATTY MURRAY EXPRESSED CONFIDENCE THAT THE SENATE WILL DEVELOP A BIPARTISAN VERSION OF REAUTHORIZATION OF THE HIGHER EDUCATION ACT… “BUT IT WILL BE CHALLENGING.”“We cannot be allured by innovation for innovation’s sake and hurt students in the process. We must have evidence,” was another point she made that reappeared in different forms throughout the hearing.

She said that she is confident that they can find a bipartisan solution, but that it will be challenging. After Sen. Murray completed her remarks, Sen. Alexander observed: “I can tell from each of our opening statements that we are listening to each other. And that’s a good sign.”

Witnesses Provided Examples of Successful Innovations

The HEA hearing had five witnesses from a variety of institutions and organizations. Each of them provided testimony regarding their institution or specialties, and the Senators asked follow-up questions. The questions and the direction of the discussion revolved around the topics that the witnesses presented.

Dr. Joe May, Chancellor, Dallas County Community College District, spoke about career and technical education through certificates and associate degrees (and recommended that these be Pell eligible). He also championed more transparency of job acquisition information. He described Dallas County Promise, a partnership between school districts, institutions, and the local community to increase college completion through dual credit courses, saying dual enrollment decreases access barriers and reduces time to degree completion. He discussed the limitations of federal reporting structures, specifying that we should allow institutions to track all enrolled students, regardless of categorization. He recommended allowing DACA recipients to be eligible for Pell. Dr. May advised that the EQUIP program (a Department of Education Experimental Sites Initiative) allows for institutional partnerships with non-institutional education providers. Under this program, Dallas County Community College District partners with non-institutional provider StraighterLine and CHEA for quality assurance.

Ms. Donna Linderman, University Dean for Student Success Initiatives for the City University of New York (CUNY), testified about CUNY’s Accelerated Study in Associate Program (ASAP). The program aims to graduate 50% of their students within three years. When started, the graduation rate was 13% (or 24% for students with no remedial needs). Since its founding in 2007, ASAP has served 33,800 students and has a 53% three-year graduation rate (compared to 25% for other programs). ASAP helps students with financial and needs “outside the classroom,” such as tuition waivers, textbook assistance, transportation. There also is great emphasis on student support, such as personalized advising, tutoring, career development. ASAP is being replicated in New York and other states. She recommended support for community colleges to adopt evidence-based models to improve graduation rates through wholistic programs like ASAP.

Dr. Barbara Brittingham, President, Commission on Institutions of Higher Education, New England Association of School and Colleges, addressed four issues.

  1. Key elements to distance education quality (institutional capacity; institutional control over academics, admission and support services; faculty and professional development; and monitoring student progression).
  2. Quality CBE programs: students should be required to reach a “competency” level. Competencies need to be equivalent to credit-hour systems (in case of transfer to another institution).
  3. “Disaggregated” faculty role: some institutions employ multiple individuals to fulfill the roles previously accomplished by one faculty member. We must ensure expertise of individuals hired in these roles.
  4. Experiments for accreditors: HEA should provide options for accreditors to experiment with assuring educational quality. Some examples include differentiated accreditation or accreditation of systems (instead of institutions).

Dr. Deborah Bushway, Consultant, Competency-Based Education Network, and Provost at Northwestern Health Sciences University, discussed the potential of CBE to increase post-secondary educational opportunities. Dr. Bushway stressed that more work is needed to standardize the definition of CBE across post-secondary education, recommended that Congress define CBE within the HEA andalso authorize a CBE demonstration project to pilot changes before attempting to deploy the innovations more broadly.

Mike Larsson, President of Match Beyond, co-founded his nonprofit (which is partnered with Southern New Hampshire University) to help students from low-income families earn college degrees. Their program acts like a “personal trainer” for students, providing enrollment coaching, academic coaching, support services such as free lunches, parking vouchers, free childcare, and career coaching. 72% of their enrolled students are on track to complete or have already finished their associate degrees.

Key Themes

Accountability, Evidence, and Outcomes

The need to change accountability measures (whether within institutions, for accreditation, or for federal aid purposes) was a strong theme. Terms such as evidence-based, research-based, rigorous evaluation, progression, graduation rates, employment outcomes, and community gains from academic programs were raised repeatedly. While these calls were pointed at gaining a better understanding about which innovations deserve continued investments, Larsson opined: “outcome data should not be just for innovation.”HEA wordcloud

The federal ban against a unit record system to help with such analyses was mentioned a few times in the hearing and was noted by several on the Twitter feed. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (MA) noted the bipartisan College Transparency Act, which proposes to lift that ban so that better student information could be provided.

Bushway made a great point in observing that it will take time to develop effective outcomes measures, but a more robust set of demonstration projects could progress these innovations in the meantime. Brittingham also said that the credit hour is currently our only currency and that it is time to explore alternative measures of proficiency. Again, this will take time.

Student Needs Outside the Classroom

Several Senators and visiting witnesses discussed the importance of supporting student needs outside of the classroom. Institutions are trying to focus on helping students with their urgent needs, so the students can focus on being successful in the classroom. This wholistic student support approach is, as Ms. Linderman said, a “critical piece of the student success puzzle.” CUNY’s ASAP program and Larsson’s Match Beyond programs have both studied the typical barriers to student completion and provide answers to these barriers. These solutions include offering grants to cover gaps in financial aid, helping with transportation or parking costs, offering child care, providing free lunches, and providing personalized coaching for academic and career needs.

Demonstration Projects

We have reported in the past about the Experimental Sites Initiatives (such as EQUIP) that the U.S. Department of Education initiated in the past. These programs allow institutions to forego some federal financial aid regulations to implement an innovation. New America released a report earlier this week criticizing the lack of evidence generated by these Initiatives in the past. The report made recommendations on how to conduct true experiments. The expansion and improvement of demonstration projects to assess the efficacy of innovations was suggested several times.

Distance Education is Still Suspect

Sen. Murray cited the dismal research record of distance education in serving minority, low income, and other undeserved students. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (MA) remarks were all about making sure students are well-informed about their options and that they have safeguards protecting them against unscrupulous providers. Again, the tone was that innovations are suspect…and may always be so. One of the panel witnesses thought that the “regular and substantive interaction” requirements should remain for distance education but be removed for CBE.

Sen. Johnny Isakson (GA) noted how he and Sen. Mike Enzi (WY) were on a committee a few decades ago to review “web-based education.” At that time, a 50% rule was created so that less than 50% of all instruction could be at a distance for an institution to be eligible for aid. He noted that we need to update our thinking. He noted that the Army has most of its students learning via distance education and that its time to get our arms around how to define it.

In any case, we still have work to do on the story of the efficacy of distance education.

Consumer Protection

From what is written above, you probably gathered that there was great emphasis in finding the proper “guard-rails” that allow innovation, protect students, and assure that federal aid funds are spent wisely. Given the history in which a select few have used correspondence and distance education in ways that have harmed students, the Senators are wise to help protect future students. Meanwhile, several Senators are interested in removing cumbersome regulations actually inhibit student progress. It will be an interesting balancing act.Photo of a guardrail

Workforce Needs

Innovative ways to meet workforce needs were often cited, which is not surprising given this Administration. Allowing Pell grants to be used for short term certifications with value in the workplace was often suggested. Additional flexibility in aid for adults who often need to return to education in short spurts throughout their lives was suggested.

Competency-Based Education and “Regular and Substantive Interaction”

There was much support for the concept of CBE. The Senators (mostly) seemed to appreciate the flexibility for students and the attention to quality exhibited in CBE programs. Sen. Orrin Hatch (UT), whose state is home to Western Governors University, was very focused on supporting CBE. Many Senators seemed to support writing a new CBE definition, and for creating demonstration programs to further develop it.

On “regular and substantive interaction,” Brittingham noted that when that definition was created in 1992, a faculty person performed all the roles of course development, instruction, assessment, and advising. Now, institutions (such as WGU) have disaggregated those roles. She said it is time to modernize interaction to keep pace with changes in faculty practices.

As noted above, it was suggested that “regular and substantive interaction” be removed from CBE but be retained for distance education. We hope that we can push forward regulatory reforms for all innovations and not pit them against each other as some are inclined to do.

In Conclusion and Next Steps…

We need to continue to observe what is happening and be active participants in the process. The Committee asked for definitions of “competency-based education,” “distance education,” and “correspondence education.” Shall we do so? Sen. Alexander invited such input.

There was discussion about an issue that we have been struggling with since the House’s PROSPER Act was released. In that bill, they replaced “distance education” with “competency-based education” in the definitions and in the accreditation oversight section. Since regulation always lags innovation, it is time for us to think bigger. Let’s create “guard-rails” that can be applied to any innovation. The one sure fact that we can’t escape: innovations that we cannot even imagine are on their way. Let’s create regulations that can work for any innovation, so we don’t have to worry about the problem of trying to define “distance education” and “competency-based education” after decades of experience with these modalities. We will think more about this and may make some suggestions in future posts.

Meanwhile, what do you think. What “guard-rails” are needed? What regulations are needed? What changes to regulations are needed? What changes to the financial aid program are needed?

 -Russ and Lindsey

Photo of Russ Poulin
Russell Poulin
Director, Policy & Analysis
WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies
rpoulin@wiche.edu  @russpoulin



Photo of Lindsey Downs
Lindsey Downs
Manager, Communication
WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies
ldowns@wiche.edu @lindsey0427



CC Logo

Learn about WCET Creative Commons 4.0 License

A Look Back at the 2017 WCET Member Job Posts

WCET Job Postings are a compilation of member higher education job posts, emailed directly to our WCET membership and also posted to the WCET website. Rosa Calabrese, the WCET Manager of Digital and Project Support Services shares the job posts weekly via the WCETNews email list. Over the last year, Rosa observed several items of interest regarding the job post submissions she received.

Today we welcome Rosa to discuss her observations of 2017 job posts in higher education AND announce two new features of the WCET job posts that I know you will like.

Enjoy the read and enjoy your day,

~Lindsey Downs, WCET

If there is any particularly interesting take away I have from reviewing all the job posts that WCET received for our member job distribution in 2017, it’s that Instructional Designers are in high demand right now! While this isn’t particularly shocking (I think most of us have noticed that as higher ed courses become more digital, they also require more skilled professionals who understand how to translate previously offline content into an online environment), my inner sociology enthusiast is nonetheless excited to be able to witness the ways in which higher ed is changing based solely on career openings.

Two men sitting at a table talking

Photo by @liwordson from nappy.co

But a substantial need for Instructional Designers is only one of many observations that I have made in looking back at the 2017-member job posts.

What Jobs Does WCET Post?

As a reminder to anyone who could use a refresher or is unfamiliar with the WCET member job posts, these are position openings at member institutions sent directly to me weekly, which we call attention to at the end of each week. Only WCET members can submit posts and only for positions at WCET member institutions or organizations.

Every Friday afternoon, I compile a list of all the positions that I received during the week and send them to our members on the members-only WCETnews email list along with weekly announcements (did you know member institutions have unlimited subscriptions to the WCET email lists? Learn more). I then add the positions to our website on the Member Job Post page, where each position stays available for two weeks. Submissions need to follow certain guidelines and each organization/institution can submit up to five positions per week.

Much Diversity in Geography, Positions, and Institution Types

In 2017, WCET received 270-member job posts, which came from 40 states plus Washington DC. On the map below, you can see the approximate number of job posts that we received from each state.

Map of the US. Each state is highlighted as submitting different numbers of job posts in 2017. Most states submitted 1-5, following by states submitting 6-20, then 0 job posts, and 21+ posts.

I also categorized all 2017 job posts (to the best of my ability) by subject matter. Of those 270 positions, 81 positions were for instructional designers or instructional technologists, the largest specific category. Other common categories I found were technical positions (17), financial positions (12), marketing positions (10), professor/teaching positions (9), accessible design positions (6), and state authorization/compliance positions (6).

However, there were about 85 positions that I broadly categorized as administration positions. Many of these positions had unspecific names such as Project Manager or Program Director, or if they did have specific topics, they mentioned things such as advising, faculty, and admissions. I placed a further 36 positions into the slightly more specific category of eLearning administration, which were similar positions as the previous category, but with an emphasis on distance education, educational technology, and online learning. Lastly, 8 positions escaped categorization by my measures.

I was pleased to see that we received quite a few high-level positions. We received job posts for 20 Managers, 29 Directors, three Executive Directors, three Chief Information Officers, one Vice Dean, seven Deans, three Vice Provosts, one Provost, and one President.

Additionally, the job posts that we received in 2017 were from many different types of institutions. We received positions from 2-year institutions, 4-year institutions, state/system higher ed offices, non-profits, for-profits, and corporations. I think that our 2017 job posts were pretty well rounded and could fit the needs of just about anyone looking for a job in higher education.

New Features of WCET Job Posts

Finally, I’m excited to unveil two new features of the WCET job posts. First, we have decided to begin allowing members to send us Adjunct Pools to be posted with our other positions, with a few conditions. Each Adjunct Pool can only be posted once every six months so as not to overwhelm the rest of our list with reposts. Additionally, institutions must resend positions themselves after six months as we will not repost unless we are asked during the week leading up to the post.

Secondly, starting today, we will now archive all positions from the past two years on the WCET website. This new Member Job Post Archive page (which can be found linked at the bottom of the main Member Job Post page) will primarily serve as a reference point for the creation of your future job posts. For example, if you are looking to hire, say, a Course Developer at your institution, you can refer to our archives to read the job descriptions and minimum qualifications for that type of position advertised at other institutions. All future job posts displayed on the WCET website will continue to be available in the archives moving forward.

So what are you waiting for? Share a job opening at your institution with us! And make sure you share our weekly posts with an aspiring job hunter you know. Happy job hunting!

Photo of Rosa


Rosa Calabrese
Manager, Digital and Project Support Services
WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies



CC Logo

Learn about WCET Creative Commons 4.0 License


%d bloggers like this: