The Lumina Foundation is putting $2.3 million behind a growing effort to reduce the regulatory burden on institutions that offer online courses to students across state lines, according to the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education.
Four regional commissions, including WICHE, and a number of other higher education officials want distance ed programs to be regulated by the state where they are based instead of by every state where they operate, a plan some hope will solve the longstanding, knotty problem of regulating cross-state institutions. Existing regulations requiring online programs to register in each state where they have students are simply being ignored.
Lumina is funding a voluntary solution, which mirrors recommendations from a report issued in April. The so-called State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement, or SARA, would create a national series of reciprocity agreements. States would be responsible for regulating distance ed institutions based in their states. Other states would rely on that home state's work. Distance ed providers, including traditional universities and for-profit providers, could expect a decrease in their paperwork and required fees. SARA would require states across the country to change their laws to accommodate the new regulatory framework.
The head of the New England Board of Higher Education said SARA is a workable solution.
"This agreement provides a timely and voluntary means by which state authorizers and postsecondary institutions nationwide can collaborate to address key challenges, including the ongoing profusion of online learning, the misalignment of state policy requirements, and the need to expand online access and program quality," Michael K. Thomas, NEBHE’s president and CEO, said in a statement.
Altius Education, a for-profit company that runs Ivy Bridge College, announced late Thursday that Tiffin University, a nonprofit institution in Ohio, has been ordered by its accreditor to stop offering associate degrees through Ivy Bridge. Those degrees have been covered by Tiffin's accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission, which according to Altius said that the Ivy Bridge programs must end by October 20. Ivy Bridge allows students to earn associate degrees online that can then be transferred to other institutions, although that transfer has depended on the program's accreditation. Ivy Bridge said it would focus immediately on trying to help students transfer to accredited institutions.
The announcement offered this explanation of the Higher Learning Commission's action: "In 2010, the HLC board approved continuing accreditation for Tiffin University and Ivy Bridge College through 2020. Since then, the HLC has made changes to select policies and procedures, and on July 25, the HLC notified Tiffin University that the business structure of Ivy Bridge College did not align with their changes in policy and issued the October 20 deadline for disengagement."
Here is a 2011 article in Inside Higher Ed on the Ivy Bridge-Tiffin relationship, noting that the program had won many supporters.
Financial information for-profit colleges submit to the U.S. Department of Education is inconsistent and generally not helpful, according to an audit by the department's Office of Inspector General. For-profits provide financial statements to the department as a requirement of their participation in federal financial aid programs. But those statements lack transparency, the audit found, because the presentation about instruction and marketing costs is not consistent across institutions.
A federal court has denied a request by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of the Inspector General for a trove of emails from The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS), a consumer protection group. The department had sought to enforce a subpoena that asked for transcripts of email messages related to for-profits. At issue is whether Robert Shireman, who founded the group, might have violated a federal ethics law by discussing pending regulations while he was working as an official at the department.
A federal magistrate judge, in a court filing last week, said the subpoena was an overreach because TICAS has no financial or programmatic ties to the federal government. Department officials also "conveyed ambiguous messages" about the subpoena, according to the filing. And the judge wrote that investigators can talk directly to Shireman.
A federal judge on Friday approved a $5 million settlement between Chester Career College (over charges related to when it was called Richmond School of Health and Technology) and the for-profit's former students, the Associated Press reported The suit alleged that the school specifically recruited low-income students, who then borrowed money and didn't get much of an education at all. The fund will help the former students repay loans or obtain an education. A lawyer for the college said that the agreement did not constitute an admission of any of the charges.
Alumni and students of the Charleston School of Law are angry over rumors that the for-profit law school will be sold to the InfiLaw System, which operates three other for-profit law schools, The Post and Courier reported. The Charleston School of Law has not confirmed that a sale is imminent, but did announce last week that it had signed a "management services agreement" with InfiLaw that the law school said would improve the quality of programs at Charleston. But Kathleen Chewning, president of the Charleston School of Law Alumni Association, said that her members and students were concerned because they believe their law school is perceived as having more quality than those owned by InfiLaw. InfiLaw declined to comment, and its webpage says only that an "important announcement" is coming soon.