Thank you Ted Mitchell!

In his last hours as the Under Secretary of Education, Mitchell wrote a letter to Marshall Hill (Executive Director, NC-SARA) and me confirming the clarifications to state authorization regulations that Department staff made to me and I recently reported. The Department has long-supported reciprocity as a path to state authorization for distance education. In response to a query from NC-SARA and WCET, today’s letter confirms a reciprocity definition that keeps one state from undermining the whole agreement.

U.S. Department of Education Under Secretary Ted Mitchell's official portrait
Under Secretary Ted Mitchell

If each state can do what it wants, there is no reciprocity. That was NOT the Department’s intent.

Conflicts Between a State and a Reciprocity Agreement Must Be Resolved

Suppose that a state’s laws or regulations are in conflict with a reciprocity agreement that the state is seeking to join or is already a member. The state and the agreement are expected to resolve that conflict:

“In other words, a distance education reciprocity agreement may require a State to meet the requirements and terms of that agreement in order for the State to participate in that agreement.”

The key sentences in Mitchell’s letter of January 19 describing the consequences of a state no longer remaining in good standing with a reciprocity agreement follow:

“Thus, if the Department becomes aware of an unresolved conflict between the terms of a reciprocity agreement and existing State statutes and regulations, affected institutions seeking authorization via a reciprocity agreement would not be considered authorized under the Department’s regulation. Once a State has resolved the conflict within its own body of law, or the reciprocity agreement amends its conditions so as not to preempt state law, affected institutions will be found in compliance. ”

Thank You and What’s Next

Marshall and I, are overjoyed at the clarification. I’m sure the more than 1,300 institutions participating in SARA are happy, as well.

The state authorization regulation might make it to being enacted in July 2018. We will learn more about Congress’s intentions after the inauguration. We also feel confident that the new administration will also be supportive of reciprocity. In any case, uncertainty about the future of the federal regulation remains, but states still expect you to be in compliance. Meanwhile, we are very pleased at the Department’s on-going support of reciprocity as a key part of the their regulation.

Thank you Ted. And thank you to the Department staff who worked very hard to craft this letter and deliver it to us this week.


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Russ Poulin

Executive Director, WCET & Vice President for Technology-Enhanced Education, WICHE


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8 replies on “Education Department Confirms ‘Reciprocity’ Definition Clarification”

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The key sentences in Mitchell’s letter of January 19 describing the consequences of a state remaining in [?] no longer being in good standing with a reciprocity agreement follow:

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