Online Educators Wary of U.S. Rule on 'State Authorization' of Programs

April 5, 2011

Colleges that offer online programs to students in multiple states have been told that if they do not show a "good faith" effort to comply with various state rules governing higher ed by the beginning of July, they could lose their eligibility for federal student aid. But according to an update to an earlier report on online regulation by the consulting firm Eduventures, colleges are still uncertain about exactly what they need to do before then to avoid running afoul of state regulators or federal watchdogs. The firm says distance education officials at various institutions it surveyed were scrambling to undertake "extreme measures," such as acquiring licensing in every state where they enroll students or ceasing operations in all but their home states.

State officials, meanwhile, have been reticent to update or rework their online licensing requirements, despite the fact that in many states the existing rules are "unclear," "patchily enforced," and archaic in light of the new normal of online education, Eduventures says. Only 14 states have updated or reformulated their policies, it says. For reasons not primarily connected to online regulation, a coalition of higher ed officials, led by the American Council on Education, has lobbied to extend the July 1 deadline, which is when numerous federal rules are scheduled to take effect.

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