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At the State Authorization "Deadline": What Should Institutions Do?

In a post yesterday, I noted that progress has been made on federal legislation to repeal regulations set to take effect this Friday on state authorization requirements for online/distance learning programs, but if and when Congress might pass such legislation is far from certain. Given that, the July 1st deadline for the regulations to take effect, along with a slew of other “program integrity” regulations related to federal financial aid programs, still holds.

The key question for most institutions is, “What does that mean, and what should we do about it?” As also noted yesterday and in previous posts, ED has indicated that it will not pursue compliance efforts against institutions until July 2014 as long as they are pursuing good-faith efforts to come into compliance. A review of the “Dear Colleague” letter from April 2011 in which ED outlines what it sees as constituting “good-faith efforts” is helpful, but still leaves a great deal of gray area.

While EDUCAUSE does not support WCET’s position on the bill to rescind the state authorization and federal credit hour definition regulations—WCET has indicated that it does not agree with the bill whereas EDUCAUSE joined the American Council on Education in a group of roughly 78 higher education associations and organizations expressing support for the legislationWCET’s state authorization site provides useful information on factors to consider in navigating ED’s application of the regulations. Academic Impressions also released some advice from Excelsior College President John Ebersole on steps institutions might take to indicate “good-faith” compliance efforts as the legislative/regulatory environment gets sorted.

If you have identified other suggested next steps on this issue that you found useful, please let me know so I can extend the post (jcummings@educause.edu). In the interim, institutions should track the State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO)/National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS) project to develop a comprehensive directory of state authorization requirements. Also of considerable interest will be the status and uptake of the Presidents’ Forum project on developing a multi-state compact for reciprocity in approving online educational programs and providers.