Federal online college regulations have new life

Complying with state authorization rules could cost $143,000 per college or university, according to a WICHE survey of 230 institutions.

Colleges and universities must already comply with state regulations, so tying in federal financial aid is seen by some college leaders as adding an unnecessary burden to an already burdensome process.

And they aren’t alone. In February 2012, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to eliminate state authorization rules in a rare bipartisan vote.

In a November interview with eCampus News, John Ebersole, president of Excelsior College, one of the country’s oldest institutions to offer distance learning courses, said such regulations can be hurdles for innovation in education.

“This is the most intrusive Department of Education in the history of our education system,” Ebersole said. “And I believe they think there’s no problem that can’t be solved with a good regulation.”

The original federal regulations were not vacated on these grounds, however, but rather because the language “was not included in previous negotiated rulemaking or public comment processes,” according to Poulin. The court upheld the Department of Education’s right to issue the regulation.

As the department is now allowing for public comment, there will be little standing between the regulations and re-authorization. Poulin said, like it or not, it’s time for institutions to start complying with state authorizations.

“When that deadline comes, the states aren’t going to feel any need to hurry your authorization up just because you waited,” he said. “They’re underfunded, under-staffed. Some institutions may end up being on the outside suddenly where they can’t get approved, and in states where they may already have quite a lot of students.”

Follow Jake New on Twitter at @eCN_Jake.

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