In an address to the Council of Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) yesterday, Ted Mitchell (Under Secretary for Postsecondary) Education announced a ‘pause’ on state authorization. This announcement was reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed today. I’ll share what I know about this.
The Department’s Earlier Announcement of a Delay was Not about Distance Education
The Department of Education published a notice a few days ago that it will delay the deadline for state authorization compliance by another year. The letter references sections 600.9(a) and (b), which are about regulating institutions WITHIN A STATE and is NOT about distance education. You can learn more about the differences in the two types of ‘state authorization’ in a blog post that Greg Ferenbach of Cooley, LLP wrote for us earlier this year. In brief, some states are still confused about what the Department wants in terms of authorizing institutions within their state and they needed another extension or some of their colleges would have lost their financial aid eligibility.
There Has Been Considerable Contact with the Department about the Distance Ed Regulation
WCET joined with Sloan-C and UPCEA to write a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Under Secretary Mitchell about our concerns with the direction the Department was taking and to give recommendations on how the Department might proceed. I have also been talking with numerous groups and individuals that have been writing their own letters or have used their contacts.
On Tuesday of this week, Marshall Hill (Executive Director of the National Council on State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements) and some high-ranking members of the National Council leadership board met with Mr. Mitchell. According to Marshall, Mr. Mitchell was aware of many of the concerns that they raised and was very supportive of reciprocity. From that meeting, Mr. Mitchell indicated that more work needed to be done, but did not suggest the delay.
Mr. Mitchell’s reference in the Inside Higher Ed article about addressing a “specific problem” showed that our message was being heard.
Ted Mitchell’s Announcement to CHEA
The original timeline was for the Department to issue proposed distance education regulations for public comment in July or August. They would address the comments and issue a final version of the new regulations by the end of October. That date was important, as it is the deadline for regulations that are to be implemented by July 1 of next year.
Given that Mr. Mitchell is new in his position as Under Secretary and the great concern from all sectors about both types of ‘state authorization’ regulations, it is understandable that the Department would wish to put a pause on proposing a new regulation. Additionally, the “reauthorization” of the higher education act (which governs the federal financial rules) is now getting underway. State authorization has already been a political football in those discussions.
It will be interesting to see if this issue is left for reauthorization or if they will create another process to address this issue. I will let you know what I learn. Meanwhile, I’m having conversations with organizations of states about engaging with the Department on real dialogue on this issue. As we suggested in our letter, if the Department has concerns about what states are doing or not doing, they should directly involve the states in seeking solutions.
State Regulations are Still in Place
As a reminder…there is no pause or delay on state regulations. States expect institutions to follow their laws and regulations before enrolling students or performing any other regulated activity in that state…whether there is a federal regulation or not.
Interim Co-Executive Director
WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies
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