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As many colleges prepare to continue teaching at least partially online this fall, student advocacy groups such as the Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS) are ramping up calls for greater scrutiny of the modality.

"How to Monitor the Risks of Online Education," recently published by TICAS, describes the unprecedented shift to online education that took place in the spring as a “massive experiment with unknown consequences.”

“It is challenging to assess the quality of online education,” the report said. “Key sources of data on colleges do not identify whether programs are online, making it impossible for students to make informed choices or for regulators to identify potential problems. Changes in data collection are needed to protect students, including data on the graduation rates, loan defaults and other outcomes of online students.”

To better understand and track online learning outcomes, the report makes several recommendations for improved data collection and transparency. These include requiring colleges to report changes in course delivery to the U.S. Department of Education and accreditors, as well as introducing more detailed data collection relating to online and distance education in federal data sets.

The report also suggests that the department create a secret shopper program to “ensure that colleges are providing accurate information to prospective students” and are not engaging in predatory recruitment practices.