Lawmakers weigh big change to online college policy

Alabama lawmakers are considering legislation to allow the state’s colleges and universities to participate in reciprocal online course offerings with schools in other states.

The Tuscaloosa News reports House Bill 321 is sponsored by Rep. Bill Poole, a Tuscaloosa Republican. Poole says he met with the Alabama Commission on Higher Education and educators when he crafted the bill.

lawmakers-online-collegeThe legislation would tweak part of Alabama law to allow accredited out-of-state schools participating in a regional agreement approved by the governor to operate in Alabama.

Alabama Commission on Higher Education Director Gregory Fitch says the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools would likely be the accrediting authority, and the agreement would be overseen by the Southern Regional Education Board.

The bill has won support from some University System of Alabama officials.

The regulatory hoops institutions must jump through when serving students outside their states can already be numerous, but in 2010 the Department of Education released new regulations that linked state authorization to federal financial aid.

In June 2012, after a series of lawsuits challenging the regulation, the authorization was vacated by the U.S. District Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals, but many educators and observers expected it to be reinstated.

The costs of complying – and consequences for not – can be steep for institutions offering distance learning outside of their home states.

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