Institutions have juggled many issues to maintain educational continuity during the pandemic. WCET has addressed accessibility, Veterans benefits, crisis coordination, Open Educational Resources, the U.S. Department of Education’s ability to exercise enforcement discretion for Title IV eligibility , and more!
However, we must now address the issue of institutional management of state licensing board requirements for programs leading to professional licensure or certification. There are also related issues if the activities take place outside of the state of the institution. Institutions should track the student’s location and be familiar with licensing board educational requirements in other states as well as the home state of the institution. Documentation of processes and transparency of information to students is essential.
Responding to Crisis by Pivoting Online
When institutions were forced to quickly close campuses due to the COVID-19 pandemic, students disbursed to various corners of the United States. Institutions moved swiftly to provide educational continuity to the widely disbursed students by converting face-to-face courses to an emergency remote and online format. The U.S. Department of Education quickly understood the plight of the institutions to provide instruction to students located outside of the state of the institution by offering flexibility for state authorization compliance as it relates to Title IV Federal financial aid. Although, it should be noted that the guidance indicated that it does not extend to requirements by any states which would be outside of the Department’s authority.
An additional important issue is the impact on institutions and students for conversions of course modality and alternate experiential learning for programs that lead to professional licensure or certification. Students pursuing programs leading to professional licensure or certification not only were disbursed to the various corners of the United States to continue their courses online, some students found their required experiential learning opportunities cancelled.
So, in addition to managing technology, accessibility, quality, and other student focused issues, the institution must consider institutional approval in the states where the student is located and any necessary program approval for a program leading to state licensing or certification by the state licensing board in each state where students are located.
As we all look forward and consider “what’s next” it will become increasingly important to review state licensing board requirements as we move from emergency management of curriculum to the “new normal” management of curriculum for programs leading to licensing or certification.
Thank goodness it is the year 2020! …and thank you State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (SARA) for facilitating the mechanism to provide more than 2,000 participating institutions the ability to enjoy institutional approval through reciprocity during the quick conversion to online course delivery to students who were suddenly spread to all of the 49 SARA member states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands (only California has not become a SARA member state). If this pandemic had happened in 2010, each institution would be subject to the widely varying processes and fees of the individual states for institutional approval to offer online courses to the students located in those states while the students participate in those activities. California institutions and institutions choosing not to participate in SARA have found these varying processes and fees challenging.
The institutions not participating in reciprocity must follow the specific state requirements, if any, in each state where the students are located. Some states are offering an emergency institutional approval process due to the pandemic, and some are not. Additionally, SARA provides a consistent path to the appropriate state agency to review and act on student complaints that are unresolved by the institution. Thank goodness in 2020 most institutions can rely on institutional approval through SARA participation and the students can rely on a consistent path to manage student complaints due to their institution’s participation in SARA.
This is where it gets tricky…
Institutions that offer face-to-face programs that lead to professional licensure or certification typically prepare their students to obtain a license or certificate in the state of the institution. The pandemic caused some students to leave the state of the institution to continue their courses remotely from a different state. Participation by the student in courses leading to professional licensure in a different state may prompt the need for the institution to gain approval of the program from the state licensing board where the student is located.
State professional licensing boards may wish to exercise authority over the institution that offers students the ability to participate in courses leading to a license or certification in their state. Oversight may include requirements for modality of instruction, types of courses, and time participating in required experiential learning. (ex. clinicals, student teaching, etc.). Institutions may need to seek programmatic approval by the state licensing board. Note that professions vary, and states vary as to educational requirements to obtain a license or certificate for different professions. Consistency of educational requirements by state boards or at least clear access to the requirements would be helpful (but, this is a conversation for another day).
Examples of collated state licensing board information for some professions:
- Counseling: State Professional Counselor Licensure Boards.
- Law: Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements.
- Nursing: Distance Education Information and access to State Boards of Nursing Links.
- Social Workers: Social Work License Map.
- Teacher Preparation: Directory of Certification/Licensure Offices.
Emergency measures by some state licensing boards for some professions and state executive orders address emergency approval for conversion to online courses, program modifications, cancelations of proficiency/licensure testing, and experiential learning opportunities to assist students to move forward in their academic programs during the pandemic. Students may be offered the opportunity to participate in virtual or simulated experiential learning or may be able to obtain a temporary or provisional license in several states. The institutions providing the programs may need to seek approvals by the state boards to provide alternative instruction. It is important for the institution to review the state licensing board requirements. Some national associations of state boards have provided compiled state board emergency responses for which we have gathered and share on the WCET/SAN website.
During this unprecedented time, students are adjusting to varied alternative education and training for programs leading to licensing from a wider variety of states other than the home state of the institution. Although institutions are currently in an emergency response mode, institutions will likely see a continuation of out-of-state activities for these programs in upcoming academic terms necessitating additional focus on research and disclosures regarding the professional licensure programs.
Knowledge of the various states’ requirements is quite a challenge for institutions caught unprepared in their nationwide professional licensure research for each of their institution’s programs that lead to licensure or certification. To be fair, it is a huge undertaking for the institution to research each institutional program leading to professional licensure or certification in each of the states and territories in the United States. However, research of the state requirements and subsequent disclosures of the determination of whether the institution’s curriculum meets state educational requirement is an important undertaking to serve students participating in the institution’s licensing programs. One may consider that this is also a reasonable undertaking considering that institutions have made the most of opportunities to market in other states and offer their programs in other states through distance education.
Research of state board requirements and subsequent disclosures to students is not a new institutional responsibility. For years, institutions participating in SARA have been required per SARA Manual Section 5.2 to provide professional licensure disclosures for distance education students. Federal regulations set to become effective July 1, 2020 require that institutions provide general and direct disclosures to students for their programs that lead to professional licensure or certification regardless of educational modality. These new regulations will replace currently effective Federal regulations that include professional licensure disclosures for distance education.
Transparency by the institution is critical for the student with aspirations of a career in a profession. One should consider that in this increasingly mobile society that students will desire flexibility to choose the best employment opportunity in their profession from a variety of states. The State of Emergency declarations from many states that provided flexibility to employ health care students and workers during the pandemic may also cause students to realize the value of their profession and even to be more discerning when considering the state where they will someday practice their profession. The discriminating student will look for an institution that provides clear information about the status of the curriculum meeting state educational requirements in other states. Disclosures by institutions provide students the ability to make informed decisions and understand whether the program’s educational offerings are sufficient to obtain a license or certificate to secure employment in that profession.
The Spring term courses were very quickly adapted for students due to the campus closures. Time has transpired for preparation of Summer term and development of possible options for Fall term. As such, the bar may be raised for course quality and compliance requirements moving forward.
Members have asked whether we anticipate that the Department will delay the effective date of the July 1, 2020 for the new Federal regulations. While the Department may extend flexibility in regard to compliance for purposes of Title IV programs, the institutions will continue to be responsible to institutional accreditors, programmatic accreditors, state licensing boards, and state higher education agencies.
We recommend the following actions:
- Identify the institution’s programs that lead to professional licensure or certification.
- Identify any curriculum changes that were necessary due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Document any changes to curriculum including meeting didactic learning objectives and experiential learning circumstances.
- Identify the current location of the students.
- If the institution does not participate in SARA, the institution should review and pursue institutional approval in the states where the students are located, if required by the state.
- Review state licensing board requirements where students are located and seek programmatic approval, if required by the state licensing board.
- Be transparent with students including disclosures for programs leading to professional licensure.
Please continue to follow the continuously reviewed COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Updates and Resources on the WCET website. On the WCET/State Authorization Network (SAN) website you will find access to guidance from National Associations for State Licensure boards, Institutional Accreditor guidance, and Programmatic Accreditor guidance. You may wish to join SAN as we will continue to address federal state, and reciprocity compliance for the out-of-state activities of the institution. Don’t forget to engage with us through the WCETDiscuss and WCETNews, both of which can be accessed through wcetMix, WCET’s interactive community for our members!
WCET Resources on COVID-19
This is a highly dynamic situation and WCET will continue to update this post as needed. As always, we recommend that you directly contact your accreditor for specific guidance. WCET will continue to provide resources and updates related to COVID-19. Please see the WCET COVID-19 webpage which lists a number of curated resources for instruction, assessment, student services, regulatory policy, technology/infrastructure, and institutional emergency response planning.