Indiana has become the first state to join a national initiative aimed at making it easier for distance education programs to obtain the necessary regulatory approvals when they enroll students across state lines.
Indiana’s application was approved by the Midwestern Higher Education Compact, one of the four regional higher education interstate compacts that are implementing the state reciprocity initiative, called the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements. In order to join, a state has to meet certain minimum standards in how it authorizes programs and provides consumer protections for students. The goal is to streamline the state authorization process for distance providers who face a variety of different state regulations when they want to offer online courses outside the state in which they are headquartered. Marshall A. Hill, NC-SARA's executive director, last year set a goal of 20 member states by the end of 2014.
Beyond the patchwork of state laws governing distance education, the U.S. Education Department is also in the process of rewriting a regulation that would require online programs that want to participate in federal student aid programs to obtain permission from regulators in each and every state in which they enroll students. A previous version of that rule, known as the “state authorization” requirement, was struck down by a federal appeals court in 2012.
Department officials indicated last week, in kicking of the negotiated rulemaking process for the new rule, that they are interested in considering how state reciprocity agreements should be factored into the federal government’s state authorization requirements.