Commission examining federal rule that could ‘impede access’ to online education

The commission will have an adviser from the Education Department.

A group of influential policy makers will review a federal regulation that has drawn the scorn of online college officials who say the government rule could leave students in small states without access to web-based courses.

“State authorization” rules have been at the center of an ongoing debate among federal officials pushing colleges to register online programs in every state in which they operate, and campus decision makers who call the law onerous and overreaching.

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) lost a court battle over the state authorization rules last year, but ED officials have continued to push for the regulations. And the U.S. House of Representatives in February voted to eliminate state authorization rules in a rare bipartisan vote.

The issue was not taken up in the Senate.

Read more about state authorization rules in higher education…

Online colleges applaud regulation-killing House vote

As regulations loom, a call for cooperation between states

The state authorization battle isn’t likely to fade in 2012, as the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU) and the State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO) in May helped form a 20-person national commission to study the immediate and long-term impact of federal regulations on online learning programs.

The commission, scheduled to meet June 12, will include university presidents, executives from the for-profit college industry, a former governor, and state lawmakers. An ED official will serve as an advisor to the commission.

The group will meet a few times throughout 2012, according to APLU’s website.

Campus technologists and administrators have long said linking federal financial aid to compliance with state authorization rules is a burden on colleges and universities, since completing authorization paperwork for a single state can take days, even weeks.

“There is a discordant network of state laws and regulations that unintentionally impede access and need to be reviewed,” said Muriel Howard, president of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. “The answer lies in finding common sense solutions that result in a more uniform structure among the states thus fostering further access and innovation.”

Marshall Hill, executive director of the Nebraska Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education and a commission member, said online-education advocates should seek a compromise that weeds out fraudulent college programs without stunting the massive growth of online courses.

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