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State Approaches to State Authorization

You may be aware of the state authorization resources and directory hosted by the State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO) association. While the directory provides state-by-state information on state authorization requirements related to online distance learning, the site as a whole does not offer an analysis of state requirements leading to a quick, at-a-glance comparison of which states really require state authorization of online distance learning programs, which only require some degree of notification, which have “physical presence” triggers that could lead to an online program needing state authorization, and so forth. But such an overview is now available.

During last week’s UMass Online webinar, State Authorization & Distance Learning: Where Are We Now?, Richard Garrett, managing director of Eduventures’ Online Higher Education Learning Collaborative, provided a presentation entitled “State Authorization: Past, Present, and Future.” Slide 3 of his deck should catch your eye, since it presents a map of the United States color-coded to highlight which states have which types of state authorization requirements (if any). You will have to listen to his comments (a full audio-video archive of his presentation is provided on the event site along with the slides) to get his explanation of the slide legend, but that plus the map should give you a good sense of which states’ information in the SHEEO directory you should probably explore further for potentially problematic authorization requirements.

Garrett notes in his slides and comments that the actual compliance burden associated with state authorization should only be heavy for truly national online learning providers operating at scale, at least once programs have used the available resources to understand which states require what, and therefore where it does and doesn’t make business sense for them to operate. However, he and the panelists with whom he discusses these issues agree that institutions have to take understanding and complying with state law in the areas in which they operate seriously, even in the (possibly temporary) absence of federal regulations tying participation in federal student aid programs to such authorization.

As you view the discussion, you may want to listen in particular for the comments of Excelsior College’s Paul Shiffman, who also serves as executive director of The Presidents’ Forum, a group of higher education leaders focused on online distance learning issues, about the Forum’s work with the Council of State Governments on an interstate state authorization compact. If such a compact is ultimately produced and widely adopted by the states, then an institution’s authorization by its home state to provide postsecondary education would be recognized by all other states participating in the agreement. Additionally, Shiffman discusses the exploration by existing regional higher education compact organizations, such as the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) and the Western Interstate Compact for Higher Education (WICHE), of ways in which they might facilitate reciprocal recognition of state authorization among their member states.