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Sloan-C, UPCEA, and WCET Send Letter to ED on State Authorization

In a June 13 letter to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, the Sloan Consortium (Sloan-C), University Professional & Continuing Education Association (UPCEA), and WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET) set forth their joint stance on the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) proposal on “state authorization for distance learning.” ED is expected to release the regulations based on the proposal for public comment this summer.

As previously reported, ED was working with a Negotiated Rulemaking Committee comprised of different stakeholders to develop regulations for the disbursement of federal student aid funds. One focus of the group was on state authorization for distance education programs and the process through which these programs must go to be eligible for federal student aid programs. On May 28, however, the Committee voted against ED’s draft proposal, allowing ED to develop the regulations on its own. ED is expected to base the regulations—at least in part—on the rejected proposal.

In their letter, SLOAN-C, UPCEA and WCET expressed their concern with ED’s proposal to alter states’ review procedures for authorizing distance education programs within their borders. Currently states establish their own procedures for authorization of these programs. In order to expedite the process, many states allow distance education programs to bypass formal review procedures if the program meets certain criteria, such as accreditation, years of service, or other “comparable exemptions.” The current draft proposal, however, strips states of this option, forcing them to apply their formal review process to every distance education program, which would slow operations and potentially result in rising costs for students.

The three organizations made eight recommendations, including that ED return to language drafted in a 2010 proposal, which said the Department would only be responsible for ensuring colleges and distance education programs were following state laws. That language would allow states to continue authorizing programs as they see fit. SLOAN-C, UPCEA and WCET also support military exemptions for active duty soldiers, their families, and Veterans Administration facilities as well as a requirement for notifying students if the distance education program’s curriculum meets state licensure requirements for relevant professions (e.g., nursing) in the students’ state of residence. The groups also discussed the need for the Department to work directly with states to address differences between existing state regulations and new federal regulations that would conflict with state requirements. More specifics and links to the rejected Negotiated Rulemaking Committee proposal are contained in the letter.