Colleges and universities that offer online classes across state borders have a long way to go before they comply with state authorization laws, though they are doing more, according to a survey of about 200 institutions with distance learning programs.
About a third of distance learning operations have not applied for any authorization to operate, though on average they serve students in more than 30 states or territories. Still, compliance efforts are up from 2011, when two-thirds of institutions had not sought any authorization.
Some institutions are deciding not to apply for authorization in certain states because of compliance efforts, confusion or cost. "As institutions have gained a greater understanding of the laws and regulations of each state, more have opted to bypass those states that they perceive as being too costly or the approval processes too cumbersome, for the number of students they enroll in certain states," said Bruce Chaloux, executive director and chief executive officer of the Sloan Consortium, which helped put together the survey.
About a third of the institutions don't bother to notify students about state authorization issues. Because of that, the report said "students may, unwittingly, get caught in the middle."
The federal government had once tried to require distance education providers to get authorization from each state they have at least one student in, but the government dropped that requirement and now institutions are bound, in theory, only by state regulations.