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U.S. Department of Education Proposed Rules and State Authorization By Lane Huber

On July 22, 2016 the U.S. Department of Education released its proposed new regulations for the state authorization of distance education programs. According to the Department’s press release, the proposed regulations are designed to clarify institutional state authorization requirements to be eligible for participation in Title IV programs. The proposed regulations were published in the Federal Register on July 25, and the public comment period ended August 24. The Department expects to publish a final regulation before the end of the year. While all higher education institutions must have state authorization in the states in which they are physically located, there are no federal requirements for distance education providers in states where the institutions are not located. The proposed regulations were issued to address this lack of federal oversight by: • Requiring institutions offering distance education or correspondence courses to be authorized by each state in which the institution enrolls students, if such authorization is required by the state. The proposed regulation recognizes authorization through participation in a state authorization reciprocity agreement, as long as the agreement does not prevent a state from enforcing its own consumer laws. • Requiring institutions to document the state process for resolving student complaints regarding distance education programs. • Requiring public and individualized disclosures to enrolled and prospective students in distance education programs, including adverse actions taken against the school, the school’s (or state’s, if required by a state) refund policies, and whether each program meets applicable state licensure or certification requirements.

Russ Poulin, Director, Policy & Analysis for WCET (WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies), in his WCET Frontiers post on August 2 was mostly pleased with the final language. “I know that many in the higher education community wish this federal regulation would go away. I don’t agree. For the amount of federal funding that institutions receive, asking colleges to follow state laws is a reasonable expectation. In talking about regulations, the impact of protecting students is sometimes lost. Keep the focus on the student.” Marshall Hill, Executive Director of the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA) was complimentary, as well. “I am pleased the U.S. Department of Education recognizes the need for baseline and uniform standards for consumer protection for our nation’s college students, regardless of where they live or choose to take their courses. The National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements is fulfilling this critical coordinating role and, through the work of state attorneys general, state-based higher education officers and institutional leaders, students in 40 states have stronger consumer protection than ever before.” Surely, there are still many institutions that have been taking the “wait-and-see” approach to state authorization in states where they are enrolling distant students. That’s probably going to change quickly when Title IV dollars will now be directly tied to compliance. And it’s not just compliance, but transparent compliance. According to the proposed new §668.50, institutions will be required to disclose certain information about the institution’s distance education programs. Specifically, how the distance education program or correspondence course is authorized. According to the proposed language, “An institution would be required to disclose whether the program offered by the institution through distance education

or correspondence courses is authorized by each state in which students enrolled in the program reside. If an institution is authorized through a state authorization reciprocity agreement, the institution would be required to disclose its authorization status under such an agreement.” You can follow Russ Poulin’s continued analysis at and plan to join CCME at the annual professional development symposium March 6-9, 2017 in Atlanta for the most up-to-date information on this process ( O

Francisco Lopez

Note from Franc Lopez, CCME President: CCME thanks Lane Huber, Chief Distance Learning Officer & Military Affairs Officer at Bismarck State College, President-Elect of CCME, and member of the M-SARA Regional Steering Committee for the Midwestern Higher Education Compact (MHEC), for his overview of proposed rules and state authorization. For more information about our organization, please visit Note: Call for Proposals and Awards, and Registration for next year’s Symposium are now open.

For more information, contact MAE&T Editor Kelly Fodel at or search our online archives for related stories at

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