State authorization rule to be delayed for two more years
- The U.S. Education Department announced it will delay for two more years implementation of its controversial regulations requiring all online programs to show they are approved to operate in every state where they enroll students, according to Inside Higher Ed. The government says it will publish the regulations in July 2020, a decade after the saga all began, after another public comment period.
- WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET) offers a timeline and analysis of continuing congressional delays of state authorization for distance education provision. In the works since 2016 and originally scheduled to take effect in July of this year, the Department of Education last Friday confirmed another round of negotiated rulemaking for online learning access and eligibility of various institution types.
- Colleges and universities have largely looked to individual state regulations and State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements to self-govern online offerings and expansion. "The institution is still under a regulatory obligation to the states in which the institution enrolls students, offers services, or participates in activities. The compliance obligation may be met by individual state compliance or through participation in the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (SARA) for SARA participating institutions, as provided in the SARA Manual," according to the WCET website.
The delays in state authorization for distance education have been linked to delays on Congress' inability to finalize the Higher Education Act. Online degree programs, coding boot camps and other forms of distance learning have flourished in the years since state authorization became a signature discussion in higher education policy.
The rules were initially announced by the Obama administration as part of a package of "program integrity" policies designed to offer greater guarantees to students — and much of the conversation centered around for-profits. However, distance education has grown as a whole in the decade since the conversation began; a 2017 report found 11.4% growth in online programs at traditional non-profit institutions, and a simultaneous decline of 9.4% among for-profits.
So while the conversation may have began around how to rein in or allow growth of for-profit institutions, the policy will have farther-reaching implications for traditional institutions looking to broaden enrollment strategy and industrial training opportunities. And as more institutions partner with for-profit companies to offer training modules as a workforce development add-on, the lines between for-profit and nonprofit continue to blur. New studies point to the benefits of online education, particularly for students from underrepresented groups, so having a clear and concise blueprint for institutions to follow will be critically important.
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