Important proposed regulations affecting distance education were discussed during the Department of Education’s Program Integrity and Institutional Quality negotiated rulemaking sessions that ended on March 7.

In brief, you should take action:

  • Learn about what was proposed.
  • Make your voice known on what you support and what you do not support.

The Background

On March 20th, we published a blog update on the final week of negotiated rulemaking. Despite tons of suggestions and hours of discussion, none of the distance and digital education issues reached “consensus” among the negotiators. That leaves the Department responsible for writing proposed rules and there is no obligation for the Department to use the language discussed or negotiated by the committee.

As a quick reminder, the Department put forward proposed language on a number of issues including:

  • state authorization for in-state institutions,
  • state reciprocity for distance education,
  • attendance taking in all distance education courses,
  • disallowing aid for asynchronous clock hour courses,
  • changing the accreditation review thresholds for distance education,
  • creating a “virtual location” for all distance education programs, and,
  • restricting when books and resources can be included in tuition and fees.

What’s Next from the Department

So, what’s next?

Because there was no consensus on the distance education issues, the Department is now working on the final proposed language. That language may very well differ from what the Department put forward during negotiated rulemaking. In fact, during the last week of negotiated rulemaking, the Department’s representative stated quite bluntly that there was no guarantee that any Department concessions would find their way into the proposed regulations.

Once the Department releases the proposed regulations, they will be posted for public comment for at least thirty days. After the public comment period, the Department will work on responses to the comments received and craft the final regulatory language. If that language is released by November 1, 2024, it will go into effect on July 1, 2025, although the Department does have the latitude to delay the effective date if it believes that institutions will need more time to come into compliance with specific portions of the new regulations. It’s also possible that the Department might decide to release a portion of the proposed regulations and wait on others.

What You Can Do

Although we don’t exactly know what to expect from the Department, we have heard a credible rumor that the Department might release the proposed regulations for public comment as early as May or June. During negotiations, the Department verbally shared the expectation of releasing proposed regulations in the spring although the Current Unified Agenda and Regulatory Plan indicates that the proposed rules are to be released in October.  

Regardless of when the proposed regulations are released, we believe that the time for action is now.

Because the impact of proposed regulations on distance education will be significant, your institution may want to officially address your concerns with the Department even before the proposed regulations are released. We urge you to begin working with your government relations department and contact your elected representatives at the federal and state levels.

Your elected representatives may be able to pressure the Department into changing its position on distance education. Those in Congress could ask questions of the Department of Education. We certainly saw Congressional pressure last week to change the Department’s implementation of its gainful employment reporting regulations. Governors and legislators may be interested in Federal attempts to change laws that they passed.

To help you educate your institutional leadership, we have crafted several short policy briefs that outline the key issues and the likely impact on institutions. In communicating with your representatives or the Department itself, we urge you to focus your comments on how the discussed language would negatively impact students and your institution. Many times during the course of negotiations we heard the Department express concern that students were not being protected and sometimes harmed. We believe that the language discussed during negotiations would, in several cases, limit student opportunities and hurt students. Raising these stories will be crucial in helping persuade the Department to moderate its stance in several areas.

Once the proposed regulatory language is released by the Department, we will provide a more detailed analysis with recommendations for your public comments.

But don’t wait for the proposed language. Act now.

Russ Poulin

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


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Van Davis

Chief Strategy Officer, WCET

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Cheryl Dowd

Senior Director, State Authorization Network & WCET Policy Innovations

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