Panel: Troubles abound in online learning regulation

“There is an important issue not just in establishing some standards, but finding the right level of communication that these very different types of agencies and organizations within each of the states can actually utilize,” said Johnstone.

“I think that in New York we have a good notion of what we’re doing, and we have a good notion of what accrediting bodies are doing, but we have a very vague notion of what the other 49 states are doing,” said Connell.

“We’re such a diverse set of institutions and ways in which we govern ourselves [that] it’s hard to pull this together,” said Longanecker.

Not every online education program supports a set of universal online learning terms. Some for-profit institutions fear that these policies will just add another set of fees.

“Everything I’m hearing is just driving up my costs, which is bringing down my affordability, which is bringing down my access,” said Rich Schneider, president of Norwich University. “This is so redundant and so decentralized; it’s very, very expensive. … We are a quality institution, as many are. I just see that the role of the continued regulation is going contrary to what we’re trying to accomplish for affordability and access.”

But Longanecker said he sees this as a risk worth taking.

“The consequences of getting a bad education are so substantial, particularly the way students finance it today. That’s what raises particular attention to this; that this is considered a major opportunity in a person’s life, and if we do not serve them well, we are strongly affecting their capacity to have a good life,” Longanecker said.

Panelists also discussed the possibility of poor quality of education from institutions based outside of the United States.

“What do we do with the institutions that move to Jamaica and set up their distance learning from there?” asked Connell. “The 50 states can’t do anything about that. This is now an international issue that has to be addressed internationally, because we don’t have jammers on our borders to prevent online learning from being beamed in from other countries.”

Laura Ascione

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