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Fed. Regs. on Student Identity Verification, State Authorization of Distance Ed. Back on the Radar

As reported in today's Inside Higher Ed, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) has announced its intent to modify the rule-making effort it originally proposed last year to address federal student aid fraud concerns. In addition to reviving the dormant regulatory process on financial aid fraud, which puts back on the table EDUCAUSE's concerns about possible mandates regarding student identity verification, this morning's notice highlights ED's plan to expand the scope of the rule-making process to include the previously overturned regulation on distance education state authorization, among a range of other issues.

ED plans to hold three public hearings this May on the issues it proposes to add to the revived rule-making process from last year (the department originally said in May 2012 that it would launch the relevant rule-making committee in September 2012). Those hearings will take place in Washington, DC; Minneapolis, MN; and San Francisco, CA. The deadline for written comments will also be the end of May. (See the current notice on the rule-making process for more details.)

Other proposed issues for this round of rule-making that EDUCAUSE members might find interesting include potential revisions to the Clery Act, which addresses institutional requirements for tracking and reporting information on campus crime. The need for revisions arises from the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which adds specific requirements for instituitons to provide information on domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking, as well as to inform students and staff about such crimes on or near campus.

The planned expansion of this rule-making effort will also involve another set of ED regulations overturned by the courts--those on reporting and accountability for "gainful employment" programs (i.e., vocational and/or non-degree programs that ostensibly lead directly to employment in a recognized occupation). The department's original regulations in this area were overturned because the court found that ED had provided insufficient justification for its choice of reporting and accountability metrics (e.g., the threshold the regulations set for the percentage of a program's graduates that had to be repaying their student loans in order for the program to continue participating in the federal student loan program). As with the distance education state authorization regulation, however, the court did not find that ED had exceeded its authority in trying to establish regulations in this space. Thus, ED is taking this opportunity to revisit the issue and try to develop regulations that will withstand legal scrutiny.

Finally, the most interesting aspect of today's ED notice (as in the ancient Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times. . .") is the following paragraph (with emphasis added), which is likely to keep higher education associations and their policy professionals busy (and possibly sleepless) for a long time: 

"Over the next several years, the Department intends to conduct rulemakings related to the title IV Federal Student Aid programs. . . . We expect to announce the formation of additional negotiated rulemaking committees to address more directly access to, and the affordability of, higher education and possible steps to improve the quality of higher education in the United States and to better encourage students to complete their education. This long-term agenda will take several years to complete."


I think this is an issue that must be addressed. If someone else is completing courses for the student enrolled it is nothing but fraud. 


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