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Identity verification for distance-ed students: Proposed rules now available

The Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) signed into law by President Bush on August 14, 2008 includes language related to verifying the identity of students in distance-education programs. In particular, the law says that accrediting agencies must require institutions offering distance education to "have processes through which the institution establishes that the student who registers in a distance education or correspondence education course or program is the same student who participates in and completes the program and receives the academic credit".

Yesterday's Federal Register included a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) detailing the proposed regulations for enforcing this provision:

The agency [that is, the accreditor] meets this requirement if it requires institutions to verify the identity of a student who participates in class or coursework by using, at the option of the institution, methods such as

  • A secure login and pass code;
  • Proctored examinations; and
  • New or other technologies and practices that are effective in verifying student identification.

In its section on Benefit-Cost Analysis, the NPRM notes:

It is standard practice for institutions that offer distance or correspondence education to have processes that verify the identity of students; therefore, this provision will not have an impact on institutions. Some accrediting agencies that evaluate distance education or correspondence already review those processes when they conduct accreditation reviews. For those agencies that will have to add a step to their evaluation process, the time added to the review process is expected to minimal. We will refine our estimate if we receive comments that would enable us calculate any additional costs associated with this provision.

Comments are due by September 8.

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