“This bill is bad for students and taxpayers and would undermine important protections against waste, fraud, and abuse of the over $200 billion in federal student aid we distribute each year,” he said.

Julie Margetta Morgan, a policy analyst for the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress (CAP), wrote in a blog post that while the state authorization rules are “not perfect,” they are necessary to protect students from online colleges that have not complied with state mandates.

“With the rapid proliferation of online education programs, a state has no way of knowing who is operating within its jurisdiction unless the college maintains a physical campus,” Margetta Morgan wrote.

If the state authorization issue is taken up by Congressional lawmakers later this year, there may be some room for compromise between the Obama administration and the large Republican House majority, said Andrew Magda, a senior analyst for Eduventures. The original federal rules would be largely dismantled in an agreement between the parties, he added.

“I think the GOP would support the authority of accreditors in these situations to ensure quality, which is an authority they already have—and the federal rules note this as well,” Magda said.

Sona Karentz Andrews, the Oregon University System’s vice chancellor for academic strategies, said the House Republican-led effort to rid colleges of the federal rules is a “good signal,” but the backlash against state authorization rules wouldn’t change the time-intensive work needed to register programs in every state.

“It’s not a game changer for us in terms of behavior,” she said, adding that the rules have discouraged some online colleges from operating in states with the most demanding regulations. “This has the biggest negative impact on students. … The end result is that state rules are not necessarily student friendly. It’s not the kind of victory that has us whooping and hollering.”

Massachusetts, Arkansas, and Minnesota were named last year as states that could see online programs leave in droves due to excessive rules.

Six in 10 colleges and universities with online programs identified states they likely would not serve if state authorization rules are fully implemented. Twenty-nine schools said they would withdraw online classes from Massachusetts, 16 said they would leave Minnesota, and 15 wouldn’t serve college students in Arkansas.

“It’ll have a chilling effect on distance education, and students will start complaining and rising up about their freedom of taking classes being curtailed in the name of consumer protections,” said Russell Poulin, deputy director of WCET.

Standing by state authorization rules even after they were soundly struck down in the House, Ebersole said, could be a political liability for the Obama administration as the president vies for re-election.

“They’re playing right into the hands of Republicans who fight against regulations and say they’re unnecessary,” Ebersole said. “We’re hoping that the Education Department will note that there is a lot of advocacy for a better approach to this.”


Add your opinion to the discussion.