April 7, 2014
Provide your input on some proposed federal regulations regarding state authorization and distance education. If you are concerned, inform the Department of Education.
The U.S. Department of Education’s Negotiated Rulemaking Committee is discussing the possible return of the federal regulation requiring institutions to be authorized in each state in which it enrolls students eligible for Title IV financial aid. Just prior to the March meeting, the Department released a first draft of proposed regulatory language. After giving you a chance to comment, I gave you my opinions.
To remind you of the process, the Department released its proposed regulation for us to discuss at the March meeting. Through discussions and follow-up proposals, the Committee provided suggestions and improvements. Prior to our next meeting (April 23-25), the Department will released its proposed final language. At the April meeting we will discussion changes to that final language and we will vote on the final language. “Consensus” requires an affirmative vote of all 15 negotiators. A high bar to achieve. Failing consensus, the Department may propose its own regulations.
Deb Bushway (Capella), Leah Matthews (DETC), and I are members of the Negotiated Rulemaking Committee. Michael Gradisher (Pearson), Marshall Hill (NC-SARA), and Elizabeth Sibolski (Middle States Commission on Higher Education), are alternates.
The Issues for Your Input
From the Department, we have asked that they clarify their authority and the constitutionality of the proposed regulations. I’m not asking you to comment on that question (as it is a legal one for the Department), but will share their response with you.
I invite your feedback on issues that will probably have the greatest impact (if enacted) on the distance education community:
Removal of Exemptions
The Department seems to be very interested in keeping the language that would not allow states to exempt institutions providing distance education in their state based upon “accreditation, years in operation, or other comparable exemption.” At a minimum, even if the Department changes its mind and allows exemptions, the states probably will be expected to identify all institutions approved in their state by name. Therefore, there would be no more states that will simply say that you are exempt and do not officially notify you of that status.
The Department stated its interest in “active review” by the states and that simply using accreditation was not truly a review. It is unclear how much review would be required as a federal minimum.
The Department is supportive of reciprocity and included it in its language specifically as a means to authorization. The requirement that students be able to complain in the institution’s home state and the student’s official state of residence is contrary to current SARA policy. We’re trying to get that changed. I suggested that if the two states are working together the student could not file another complaint in the state in which they are residing.
A subgroup of the Negotiated Rulemaking Committee proposed additional very strict requirements on reciprocity. Essentially they were asking for reciprocity as long as the institution obeyed all the laws, requirements (e.g., bonding, refund, cancellation policies), student notifications, and paid the fees of each state. In my view, the proposal would negate reciprocity.
New Licensure Requirements
Expect to see new requirements regarding programs that lead to licensure, such as nursing, teacher education, social work. Although there are those that disagree with me, I suggested that institutions be required to notify current and prospective students whether the institution has the proper approvals in each licensure program.
The group that proposed the stricter reciprocity requirements also proposed that the institution’s programs also “satisfy the licensure or certification requirements of any State where they are offered.” If a student “wishes to enroll in such a program in a State where the program does not satisfy the licensure or certification requirements” the student must provide “in his/her own handwriting” a “signed and dated statement on or before enrolling that he/she intends to obtain employment in an indentified State for which the program satisfies occupational licensure or certification requirements.”
New Military Provision
After discussion by the Committee, I proposed an exemption for active military personnel. It would be good to assure that soldiers, sailors, and airmen are covered wherever they are stationed. Given that the federal regulation is based upon state law, it might not be possible to do anything.
Provide Your Feedback
It is difficult to say exactly what the Department will finally propose. The above should all still be considered as suggestions. It would be good to get your feedback on the impact that any or all of them might have. Please use the comment section below or write me at email@example.com with “Neg Reg Feedback” in the subject line. I received so much feedback last time that I did not get to thank each of you personally. I did read and appreciate the comments!
If you feel strong enough about any of these issues, I strongly suggest writing Secretary Arne Duncan as soon as possible:
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20202
They are drafting the language now. When the next set of language is published, I will share it with you.
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