The U.S. Department of Education may be requiring institutions that offer distance education courses to meet the state approval requirements for each state in which the institution enrolls students.
This morning, I have been sifting through a new “Program Integrity Issues” document released by the Department and posted by Inside Higher Ed this morning. The document includes comments made by individuals, institutions, and organizations on the recent Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) on federal financial aid issues. The “Program Integrity Issues” document (all 894 pages of it) also includes the Department’s responses to these issues and their changes to the original rules they proposed.
I’m not a lawyer, but I’m doing my best to understand what is being required. Also, there are many issues in this document that we’ll need to address. This issue of state approvals was brought to my attention last night and could have a huge impact.
The following is excerpted from pages 214-215:
If an institution is offering postsecondary education through distance or correspondence education in a State in which it is not physically located, the institution must meet any State requirements for it to be legally offering distance or correspondence education in that State. An institution must be able to document upon request from the Department that it has such State approval.
A public institution is considered to comply with §600.9 to the extent it is operating in its home State. If it is operating in another State, we would expect it to comply with the requirements, if any, the other State considers applicable or with any reciprocal agreement between the States that may be applicable.
“Subsection 600.9” is a phrase that will become familiar to us. In that section, the Department is expecting that:
- All institutions (whether they offer distance ed or not) be approved by name by the state(s) in which they operate.
- The institutions must be approved to offer postsecondary degrees. Having approval to operate as a business in the state does not appear to be adequate. There are lots more complexities to this that I will not explore at this time.
- The state must provide a way for students to complain about an institution.
On this last issue, pages 209-210 has the following statement:
With respect to an institution offering distance education programs, the institution must provide, under §668.43(b), not only the contact information for the State or States in which it is physically located, but also the contact information for States in which it provides distance education to the extent that the State has any licensure or approval processes for an institution outside the State providing distance education in the State.
Not sure I fully understand that, but it does seem to place a requirement on institutions to notify students of how to complain.
Hey! Did I mention that this is all to be in place by June 30, 2011? There are some opportunities for institutions to seek extensions, but my calendar has that date as only eight months away.
I was asked, “isn’t this the current expectation?” As I understand it, technically, it is. However, states vary widely in how they’ve applied their regulatory focus. For example, California had no such agency for a few years. Also, it is new that the U.S. Department of Education could demand proof of your approval status. That’s new. What does not having approval mean? It might mean those students are not eligible for federal aid. I’m just guessing.
That’s all I have from the document for now.
There has already been some conversation among organizations about how we can work closely to address this.
If you have comments , more details, or better interpretations, I’d love to hear them.
I will continue to keep you informed!