As online course agreement forms, some worry about state regulation

In April, the Democrat-controlled Maryland General Assembly passed a bill that will require online schools to report enrollment numbers, outlaw recruiter bonuses, and pay back current students if a school closes.

Any college that wants to offer courses to students in Maryland must register with the Maryland Higher Education Commission, securing the commission’s approval before accredited classes begin.

“This is a problem that’s only getting more significant,” Goldstein said. “This will have implications for online schools.”

Presidents’ Forum panelists lauded progress toward a nationwide reciprocity agreement.

Terry Hartle, vice president of the American Council on Education (ACE), said 45 states have signed on to SARA, a number that, if announced a year ago, “would have made me tell you that you’d lost your mind.”

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“The current reality is simply an unacceptable reality,” he said, referring to the national sentiment that state authorization would have stunted online learning growth. “The moment is now. … The status quo can no longer be the status quo. No solution is going to be the perfect solution, but there should be a balanced approach.”

Higher-education officials have said any enforcement of costly regulations would hit schools particularly hard, as schools have seen budgets stagnate, and in some cases, shrink, during the economic downturn.

Cynthia Gallatin, associate vice president in for online programs at Quinnipiac 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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