Rules could prompt colleges to pull online programs from some states

The cost of compliance, especially in states with myriad requirements, would be around $143,000 per college or university, according to the WCET survey of 230 institutions. Fifteen percent of school officials said the costs were too high, and three in 10 lack the staff to complete compliance forms.

Arkansas, for instance, requires all colleges to name every faculty member, even at colleges that employ thousands of professors and instructors to teach online courses. Kansas’s government needs signed affidavits from every faculty member before a college can make online classes available to students in that state.

“The difficult processes really start to pile up after a while,” Poulin said.

Perhaps most disturbing of all to advocates of online education: Less than half of colleges and universities surveyed plan to seek authorization in every U.S. state and territory.

“There’s a whole different return on investment now. We have to look at costs for each state and see if we can justify” hosting web-based classes there, said Robert Mendenhall, president of Western Governors University, a private, nonprofit online institution based in Salt Lake City.

Cynthia Gallatin, associate vice president in for online programs at Qunnipiac College in Connecticut, has led the school’s effort to comply with state’s higher education rules, and said while state regulators have been cooperative and helpful, the process has proved tedious and “very time intensive.”

“Many [colleges] are concerned with budgetary constraints while continuing to develop innovative methods for educating students,” Gallatin said. “The cost and time to comply with state regulations will prohibit some institutions from participating in online learning … and this process may deter some higher education institutions from continuing to develop innovative online models of education.”

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