April 7, 2014

Provide your input on some proposed federal regulations regarding state authorization and distance education. If you are concerned, inform the Department of Education.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Negotiated Rulemaking Committee is discussing the possible return of the federal regulation requiring institutions to be authorized in each state in which it enrolls students eligible for Title IV financial aid. Just prior to the March meeting, the Department released a first draft of proposed regulatory language. After giving you a chance to comment, I gave you my opinions.

The Negotiated Rulemaking ProcessThe words "state authorization surrounded by all the state names.

To remind you of the process, the Department released its proposed regulation for us to discuss at the March meeting. Through discussions and follow-up proposals, the Committee provided suggestions and improvements. Prior to our next meeting (April 23-25), the Department will released its proposed final language. At the April meeting we will discussion changes to that final language and we will vote on the final language. “Consensus” requires an affirmative vote of all 15 negotiators. A high bar to achieve. Failing consensus, the Department may propose its own regulations.

Deb Bushway (Capella), Leah Matthews (DETC), and I are members of the Negotiated Rulemaking Committee. Michael Gradisher (Pearson), Marshall Hill (NC-SARA), and Elizabeth Sibolski (Middle States Commission on Higher Education), are alternates.

The Issues for Your Input

From the Department, we have asked that they clarify their authority and the constitutionality of the proposed regulations.  I’m not asking you to comment on that question (as it is a legal one for the Department), but will share their response with you.

I invite your feedback on issues that will probably have the greatest impact (if enacted) on the distance education community:

Removal of Exemptions

The Department seems to be very interested in keeping the language that would not allow states to exempt institutions providing distance education in their state based upon “accreditation, years in operation, or other comparable exemption.” At a minimum, even if the Department changes its mind and allows exemptions, the states probably will be expected to identify all institutions approved in their state by name. Therefore, there would be no more states that will simply say that you are exempt and do not officially notify you of that status.

The Department stated its interest in “active review” by the states and that simply using accreditation was not truly a review. It is unclear how much review would be required as a federal minimum.


The Department is supportive of reciprocity and included it in its language specifically as a means to authorization. The requirement that students be able to complain in the institution’s home state and the student’s official state of residence is contrary to current SARA policy. We’re trying to get that changed. I suggested that if the two states are working together the student could not file another complaint in the state in which they are residing.

A subgroup of the Negotiated Rulemaking Committee proposed additional very strict requirements on reciprocity. Essentially they were asking for reciprocity as long as the institution obeyed all the laws, requirements (e.g., bonding, refund, cancellation policies), student notifications, and paid the fees of each state. In my view, the proposal would negate reciprocity.

New Licensure Requirements

Expect to see new requirements regarding programs that lead to licensure, such as nursing, teacher education, social work. Although there are those that disagree with me, I suggested that institutions be required to notify current and prospective students whether the institution has the proper approvals in each licensure program.

The group that proposed the stricter reciprocity requirements also proposed that the institution’s programs also “satisfy the licensure or certification requirements of any State where they are offered.” If a student “wishes to enroll in such a program in a State where the program does not satisfy the licensure or certification requirements” the student must provide “in his/her own handwriting” a “signed and dated statement on or before enrolling that he/she intends to obtain employment in an indentified State for which the program satisfies occupational licensure or certification requirements.”

New Military Provision

After discussion by the Committee, I proposed an exemption for active military personnel. It would be good to assure that soldiers, sailors, and airmen are covered wherever they are stationed. Given that the federal regulation is based upon state law, it might not be possible to do anything.

Provide Your Feedback

It is difficult to say exactly what the Department will finally propose. The above should all still be considered as suggestions. It would be good to get your feedback on the impact that any or all of them might have. Please use the comment section below or write me at rpoulin@wiche.edu with “Neg Reg Feedback” in the subject line. I received so much feedback last time that I did not get to thank each of you personally. I did read and appreciate the comments!

If you feel strong enough about any of these issues, I strongly suggest writing Secretary Arne Duncan as soon as possible:

U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20202

They are drafting the language now. When the next set of language is published, I will share it with you.Photo of Russ Poulin with baseball bat
Russell Poulin
Interim Co-Executive Director
WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies

If you like our work, join WCET!


4 replies on “Proposed State Authorization Regulations (Second Set): Provide Your Feedback”

The military provision is extremely important, as many in the military choose distance education as a method to complete an entire program of study, in spite of location (or relocation). Anything that has the potential to make it more difficult for military students to take courses would be of critical concern.

First, I am surprised by the lack of comments on this page. Even if people say “I like” or “dislike” a topic/idea, that would be helpful.

As a public high education institution, we are “actively reviewed” by the state board of education which is a branch of the state government and “actively reviewed” by the NWCCU. It seems redundant to potentially have an agency in every US state and territory also “actively review” every institution in the US offering distance education.

A distance education teaching institution could potential be deemed as “out of compliance” with USDOE if a state agency does not choose to identify all institutions approved in their state by name. It makes sense to have the teaching institution prove to USDOE that it is exempt from applying for state authorization because the institution will be in control of their own fate.

Reciprocity should be promoted in the Negotiated Rules because it encourages collaboration. I agree that the proposed restrictions on reciprocity proposed by the subgroup would not be helpful to the cause. The distance education teaching institution is not going to jump through the reciprocity application process and then go through the individual state process, basically doubling the amount of work and adding more costs. Public funded institutions will have to make decision regarding how much money can be spent on state authorization every year or how many states can be served. In a way, the proposed restrictions could reduce educational opportunities for students while trying to serve the best interest of a state with many restrictions.

I support the idea of notifying students when an institution does or does not have proper approvals for each licensure program. This could fall under the “Misrepresentation” regulation if we fail to inform students.

If the intent of state authorization is to safeguard the rights of students and to assure they are receiving a quality education for their money, SARA as it is currently structured will meet that need, while promoting collaboration among states in ways that would benefit both students and institutions.

A great deal of time, energy, effort and money has been spent to establish a way for institutions to cost effectively comply with state authorization. If there is an additional requirement for institutions to obey all the individual laws, requirements, student notifications, and pay fees to each state, the purpose of SARA would, as Russ indicated, indeed be negated and we would have to go back to square one.

I agree with Kelley Brandt that state institutions are currently “actively reviewed” by the state board of education, and for states to do this again for other states constitutes unnecessary redundancy and does nothing to further our intent to ensure that students are receiving a quality education.

I would urge others to comment on the proposed regulations as soon as possible.

Comments are closed.


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