State Authorization NPRM Seeks To Close Gaps In Distance Ed Oversight

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While 2010 Program Integrity Regulations established that all institutions must be legally authorized by the State in which they are physically located, the U.S. Court of Appeals in D.C. vacated the Department of Education’s regulations related to distance education and correspondence courses in 2012’s Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities (APSCU) v. Duncan. The Department then held several rounds of negotiated rulemaking sessions and as a result, ED has now proposed a set of regulations which seek to further clarify the state authorization requirements for distance and correspondence programs, as well as oversight of American colleges operating in foreign locations worldwide.

Here’s a quick summary:
• Require institutions offering distance education or correspondence courses to be authorized by each state in which the institution enrolls students, if such authorization is required by the state. The proposed regulation recognizes authorization through participation in a state authorization reciprocity agreement, as long as the agreement does not prevent a state from enforcing its own consumer laws.

• Require institutions to document the state process for resolving student complaints regarding distance education programs.

• Require public and individualized disclosures to enrolled and prospective students in distance education programs, including adverse actions taken against the school, the school’s refund policies, and whether each program meets applicable state licensure or certification requirements.

• Require that foreign branch campuses or locations be authorized by the appropriate foreign government agency and, if at least half of a program can be completed at the foreign location or branch campus, be approved by the accrediting agency and reported to the state where the main campus is located.

Given the history of the rulemaking, ED felt that stakeholders should be familiar with their intentions and thus, is allowing the public only 30 days to comment rather than the traditional 60 days. Comments are due August 24, 2016.

You can get the proposed regulations in the Federal Register here: http://ifap.ed.gov/fregisters/attachments/FR072516.pdf