State Approval: Updates and a Suggestion to Call HELP

Happy Valentines Day.

There has been much action on the “state authorization” issue over the last couple weeks.  In late 2010, I had several people assure me that this issue was “not a problem.”  It has been fun to watch the light bulbs suddenly switch on over their heads.  For those new to the “state authorization” regulations issued in October 2010, you might want to review our previous web posts and web page on the issue.

Updates

  • Dear Colleague Letter. It is still unsure as to when the ‘Dear Colleague’ letter on this issue will be released.  It might get delayed even further.  Even when released, my suspicions are that it will only address clarifications to the new regulation.  Those expecting a “deus ex machina” from this letter will be disappointed.
  • State-by-State List. The “State Approval Regulations for Distance Education: A Starter’s List” (created in partnership with the Southern Regional Education Board, American Distance Education Consortium, and the University of Wyoming) has received updates and corrections from about half the states.  States have until February 18.  We will publish the final version by the end of February.  The states that have responded so far: AZ, AR, ID, IA, GA, KY, LA, MA, MD, MN, MT, NE, NV, OH, OK, PA, SC, TX, VA, WA, WI, WV, WY. New Mexico says it cannot respond by the deadline. If you can help in getting your state to respond, we would appreciate it.Cursor pointing at text reading "help"
  • State-by-State List in the Future. Watch for an announcement about another organization assuming the duty of expanding and updating the list.  We will give all of our data to that organization.  So, that might be useful in encouraging your state to respond to our request.
  • Reciprocity. Watch for a possible announcement about a new front in tackling how interstate reciprocity agreements might help institutions meet these regulations.
  • Defining ‘Good-faith’ Effort. When I figured out that some state approval processes could take a year or more, I notified Fred Sellers from the U.S. Department of Education.  He was able to get official wording approved that as long as institutions apply by July 1, they will have demonstrated a ‘good-faith’ effort to comply and that will suffice for the July 1, 2011 to  June 30, 2012 time period.  Assistant Secretary Eduardo Ochoa mentioned this in a speech this week and people are looking for the documentation.  Since the Dear Colleague letter has been delayed, I don’t think this is in an official document anywhere.  I have requested an official document or letter which I will share.  I believe that I have the full definition, but attorneys want the official document.  That is understandable and we will get official wording
  • Lobbying and Advocacy. Several organizations are trying to figure out how to work together and what to advocate on this issue.  Conversations with U.S. Department of Education officials at every level indicate that they are not interested in changing or delaying the implementation of these regulations.  Some call that a bluff.  Others point to the mess that could be caused by re-opening the long-and-involved Rulemaking process.  On Friday, the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities sent an e-mail to its members saying that it was seeking resolution to the issue.  I will be on a call with a group of attorneys from institutions who are thinking of addressing the issue.  I am hoping that (and am pushing for) higher education to overcome traditional barriers and adopt a unified voice.

Suggestion to Call HELP

The last update on lobbying and advocacy will be frustrating to several people with whom I have had conversations.  Many of you are interested in doing something now.  Here’s a suggestion.

As noted, the U.S. Department of Education is not interested in making changes to these regulations.  When you step back and look at all the issues on their plate (for example, see gainful employment and the on-going fight over that issue), you can understand why I have been told more than once that the ‘state authorization’ issue is not a high priority for the Department.

What institutions can do is have your Presidents and legislative liaisons contact Congress.  The Senate might be best, as small states have as loud of a voice as big states.  If you are in a state that has a Senator on the Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions (HELP) Committee, as that Committee has been focused on the “program integrity” issues that were the object the regulations released in October.  In the past year, the Committee addressed many higher education issues, most having to do with the activities of for-profit institutions.  This resulted in many questions about the role of accreditors in assuring quality and state regulators in protecting consumers.

Let them know your concerns.  I suggest focusing on the impact on students.  A delay would allow time for more reciprocal agreements to be created and implemented.  Even if higher education later develops a unified position on this, providing Senators with your concerns can only help.

136 days until July 1.

Russ Poulin
Deputy Director, Research & Analysis
WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies
rpoulin@wiche.edu
State Approval page:   http://wcet.wiche.edu/advance/state-approval

Join WCET!  Support our work on this issue.

2 Comments

  1. Denis M. Murray
    Posted February 14, 2011 at 12:15 pm | Permalink | Reply

    The “good faith effort” expectation of applying to any states where your institution is not authorized still fails to reflect the magnitude of the task. Applications are not two-page documents. They need to include curricula, faculty credentials, online assesment data and protocols, financial statements, substantial fees and more. In addition each state requests somewhat different data in distinctly different formats.

    A letter of intent from your institution with acknowledgement from the targeted states is a more realistic goal by July 1.

  2. Barbara Zirkin
    Posted February 14, 2011 at 12:06 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Where can we find the updated information. Maryland is one state that responded and I know that there is a draft of more rigorous standards undergoing review – not finalized but in draft status. Thus the ball game is still in flux…I’m for reciprocity agreements across accrediting agencies since they have common rules among them.

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