First a short musing on “train wrecks” followed by a couple requests of you.  We need your help on the impact of the ‘state authorization’ regulation on students and your outstanding questions about it.

Speaking of Train Wrecks

“Train Wreck.”   Yes, that was my quote in the Chronicle of Higher Education last week.  They asked me what I thought the bottom line was on the recently released ‘Dear Colleague’ letter addressing questions about the ‘state authorization’ regulation.

Do I think the regulation is a train wreck?  Not really.  It’s actually hard for me to argue against institutions following state laws.

Photo of a train engine that has crashed comletely through the wall of a train station.
Who put that station there?

Do I think the ‘Dear Colleague’ letter is a train wreck?  The Department of Education threw the switch and gave us the ‘good-faith effort’ track, which is slightly easier to travel.  While that will lessen the impact, it’s not the solution.

Train wrecks often happen when the engineer is not given enough time to adjust to changing or unexpected conditions.   Thousands of institutions need to figure if they need to apply in each and every state and how to do it.  Many institutions are STILL in denial and are praying that this will all go away.  The costs of applying are enormous in both staff time and dues.  State regulators, used to processing a handful of applications per year, are receiving calls and letters asking for clarification…and an increasing number of applications.  Institutions are enrolling students for the summer term now, so they are needed to make quick decisions.

Neither the institutions (that have not already complied) nor state regulators are ready for the volume of work required.  Yes, colleges should have been applying all along, but many of them have not.  That’s today’s reality.

98 days until July 1.  We need more time.

Request for Impact Statements

A few of you sent me a copy of an email sent to you by the Department of Education in response to questions about the ‘state authorization’ regulation.  It included the following statement:

If an institution is serving a student with on-line or distance education in a state where the institution has no physical location, it is up to the state whether any state approval is required for the institution.  The Department regulation only requires the institution to have approval to offer the program if the state requires it.  The Department already expects institutions to know what state requirements exist when providing programs to students in those states.  Currently, a number of states do not require institutions to have state approval in those situations.  For the states that have those requirements, we are not aware of any institutions that have had difficulty obtaining such approvals.

I thought you would like that last sentence, the underlining was added by me. Earlier this year, I collected statements about the impact on students that implementing this regulation on July 1 would have.  These have been very effective in providing evidence to thought leaders.  More institutions have researched the impact and I request that you send me more such statements.

Email me with your statements at with the subject line of “Impact Statement” and the name of your institution.  You should include:

  • Your name, title, and e-mail.
  • Your institution.
  • A brief statement describing what you think the impact on students will be.

We’ll compile these statements and add them to those we have already collected.

Request for Questions for the Department of Education

In last week’s blog, I offered three questions that I wished would have been answered in the recently-released ‘Dear Colleague’ letter:

  • What about Reciprocal Agreements?  Most reciprocal agreements have never been approved by the state regulators.
  • What about Programs that Don’t Offer Federal Aid?  Since the blog, I’ve received e-mails asking for further clarification on this and I wish I had more definite answers.
  • What about Blended Programs or Programs that Require a Practicum?

If we were to talk to the Department of Education, what outstanding questions do you have?  Please use the comment feature on this blog to add your questions.

Thank you.

Russ Poulin
Deputy Director, Research & Analysis
WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies
State Approval page:
Twitter:  @wcet_info      State Approval Hashtag: #stateapp

Join WCET!  Support our work on this issue.

Photo credit:  Train wreck at Montparnasse Station, Paris, France, 1895.  In the public domain:

4 replies on “State Approval: Train Wrecks, Impacts, & Questions”

Most of the discussions I have read deal with online programs or getting a degree or certificate and having some of the courses online. What about the student that is taking most of there course in-state; however, choose to take only one online course from an out-of-state institution. Do the regulations apply only to degree seeking or any distance course no matter what the circumstance?

I have two remaining questions for the DOE (among others)!
First, do we have to advise every student of the complaint rules for our state or their state…it’s unclear.
Second, if you have student in another state who are taking a degree that has a separate accreditation (for example, nursing) but the students are licensed already and working in the adjacent (my) state, must the other state approve – accredit – the nursing program? I know there are other field to which this might apply.

Guidance from anyone out there appreciated.

Oops, pardon the typo. Post line 3 should read students in another state

This is a complex and expensive process and in some cases probably undoable for some institutions. I was wondering if anyone has asked the question, “For students currently enrolled in online degree programs at institutions outside their state of residency, is it possible for “grandfather” those students in without penalty to the institution or without dropping the student from the program because the approval process can be costly (i.e. MA)?”

This ruling seems to penalize students and institutions who may only have one or two students from a state whose approval process may be in excess of expenses and labor warranted for so few students. I would propose that any institution taking enrollments after July 1, from students in states where the program is not approved be subject to penalties rather than as currently stated. Is there anyone out there whose attention could be brought to this suggested compromise who might consider this a reasonable solution for all parties?

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