Nine higher education organizations partnered to submit comments to the Department of Education regarding its proposed state authorization regulations for distance education. By working unison, we provided a strong and consistent single voice in making recommendations to the Department.
Contributing to the letter are six distance learning associations with total memberships of over 1,000 institutions:
- Instructional Technology Council
- Online Learning Consortium
- Presidents’ Forum
- UPCEA (University Professional Continuing Education Association)
- WCET (WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies)
- WCET State Authorization Network
We were pleased to be joined by the following partners who provided additional expertise and perspectives:
- EDUCAUSE (approximately 2,000 institutions)
- National Association of Student Financial Aid Professionals (with approximately 3,000 institutions).
The Biggest Issues
The letter indicates support for many of the recommended regulations. All of the partners support increased information for students and improved consumer protections. Some of the proposed regulations need clarifications for institutions to understand how to comply. Other proposed rules simply fall short in meeting the Department’s own goals.
Our comments focused on:
- While the Department recognizes reciprocity as a means for an institution to obtain approval in a state, they want to assure that all state can still enforce their consumer protection laws. SARA allows states to enforce “general-purpose laws” that are applicable to “all entities doing business in the state, not just institutions of higher education.” The Department’s definition of “consumer protection” should mimic SARA’s or states could define it too broadly.
- State Complaint Processes. Institutions would be denied offering aid in states without a complaint process that meets Departmental requirements. Apparently, the expectation is that out-of-state institutions will: a) know which states are out-of-compliance, b) lobby those states to change their process, and c) hope that they are lobbying for change that meet the Department’s needs. While we support all students having a reliable route for complaints, this process simply will not work. We suggest alternatives
- Professional Licensure Notifications. The Department substantially underestimated the time for institutions to comply and the ability of state agencies to respond. A delay in enforcement time is needed
- “Adverse Actions” Notifications. Much clarification is needed as the types of actions differ greatly by accrediting and state agencies. We also recommend that institutions be required to report actions “taken” not actions “initiated.” The latter is often an investigation that does not result in negative consequences for the institution.
Thank you to all our partners who provide great advice and support throughout the process.
WCET and SAN Comments
We also submitted a second set of comments that reflected the interests of the WCET State Authorization Network (SAN) members. We expressed support for the issues (listed above) that were raised in the joint letter. We also included several requests for clarification that were submitted by WCET SAN members. They had very good questions about the meaning of some terms or how they might be enforced.
The Department will consider the comments and has said that it will issue a final regulation by the end of the calendar year. If the final regulation is released before November 1, then the regulations become law on July 1, 2017. If they wait until November or December, then they become law on July 1, 2018. At its discretion, the Department may announce that it will delay enforcement of parts of the regulations until a later date.
If you are not in compliance as an institution or for your professional programs in a state in which you wish to enroll students, don’t hesitate to do so. Avoid the rush. You could get trampled.
The state regulators or licensing boards have no incentive to hurry your application to meet a federal requirement. They do all they can, but they often have minimal staffing.
WCET State Authorization
Director, Policy and Analysis
WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies
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