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

“We clearly need to do better than we now do: better in enabling and supporting much-needed innovation; better in assuring quality across the board; and better in dealing with the bad apple issues that have plagued the expansion of online learning,” Hill said. “We simply cannot accomplish what we need to accomplish without significantly challenging the status quo.”

Meanwhile, the Presidents’ Forum – an online learning advocacy group – is working with the Council of State Governments to create a reciprocity agreement between states – a popular alternative to the proposed state authorization rules.

College officials have made it clear that they won’t serve students in states with the most onerous requirements to abide by.

The costs of seeking approval in those states could prove to be too high, so many schools will provide online classes only for students who live in states that aren’t heavy-handed with compliance measures, according to a survey conducted by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WCET).

Six in 10 colleges and universities with online programs identified states they likely would not serve if state authorization rules were 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.

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.

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