Higher education organizations jointly suggest alternatives to recent rulemaking proposals to improve state authorization reciprocity.

On May 1, leading higher education organizations jointly submitted a letter to the Department of Education (the Department) detailing concerns about recently raised proposals regarding state authorization reciprocity agreements. Earlier this year, the Department’s negotiated rulemaking sessions included several recommendations to alter the operations of such state-to-state agreements.

The Department was clear that the proposals would cover any interstate agreement for authorization of institutions offering distance education.

However, it was apparent that many of the ideas presented targeted the current State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (SARA), which encompasses all states except California.

If adopted, the impact of the proposals on SARA, states, institutions, and students will be significant.

The Partners in the Letter

WCET, along with the State Authorization Network (SAN), joined with UPCEA, OLC, and Quality Matters to highlight our members’ concerns. We are pleased to be joined by the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) and the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) in supporting our positions.

The Issues We Raise

The letter focuses on issues that concern the institutions and states that are our WCET and SAN members or with whom we partner. There is also considerable attention to the impact the proposals will have on our students. The two proposals highlighted in the letter are: 

  • Institutions With More Than 500 Students in Another State –
    • Proposed During Rulemaking:  Institutions enrolling more than 500 students in a state would need to seek direct authorization from that state.
    • Concerns:  While the proposal seeks to limit the risks to consumer protections and financial liabilities for states and students, there are better measures of risk. The proposal also raises more questions than it can answer. In specific cases, it will leave students with less protection than they now enjoy.
  • State Specific Laws Related to Closure –
    • Proposed During Rulemaking:  Regardless of whether it participates in a reciprocity agreement, an institution must comply with closure laws (e.g., record retention and tuition recovery funds or bonding) in the state where students are located.
    • Concerns:  As enforcement of state closure laws will vary from state to state, students will receive uneven protection based on state residency. For states to enforce state closure laws, many states would need to enact changes in legislation and state agency oversight capabilities. Alternatively, to ensure that all students receive closure protections, it would be prudent to collaborate with organizations facilitating a reciprocity agreement to develop policies that include closure protections.

In addition to the issues raised in the letter, WCET and SAN remain unconvinced about the Department’s authority to regulate an agreement among states. The states are asked to assume greater regulatory responsibility and are not direct recipients of the aid disbursed. We also worry about the over-specification of who can serve on accreditation or reciprocity agreement boards.

Finally, we urge the Department to forego any thoughts of returning to proposals to allow a state to “enforce” any law on an institution in a reciprocity agreement. Such an action would gut the benefits of reciprocity.

Call to Action and Watch for a Second Letter

As advocated in a previous WCET Frontiers blog post, we urge distance education institutions to take action.

If you support state authorization reciprocity, make your voice heard.

That blog post includes links to four issue papers that you can use. The letter announced in this post should also help you. We urge you to:

  • Review current processes to determine what changes might need to be made should the proposed language be finalized as regulations.
  • Work with your government relations department to contact your federal and state elected officials.
  • Be prepared to explain the impact on students that the proposed language would have.

Waiting for the official comment period will be too late. Your elected representatives may be able to pressure the Department into changing its position on these proposals. Those in Congress could ask questions of the Department of Education. Governors and legislators may be interested in Federal attempts to change laws that they passed.

Russ Poulin

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


303-541-0305

rpoulin@wiche.edu

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Van Davis

Chief Strategy Officer, WCET


vdavis@wiche.edu

LinkedIn Profile

Cheryl Dowd

Senior Director, State Authorization Network & WCET Policy Innovations


cdowd@wiche.edu

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Additional Resources on the 2024 Department of Education Rulemaking

  • US Department of Education rulemaking site: bit.ly/EDRulemaking2024
  • WCET Frontiers blog post updates: https://wcet.wiche.edu/frontiers/
  • After final week of rulemaking/most current update: bit.ly/NegRegWeek3Update
  • WCET & SAN Call for Action on rulemaking: bit.ly/NegReg2024CallForAction
  • SAN Federal Regulations Landing Page: https://wcetsan.wiche.edu/resources/federal-regulations
  • SAN Getting Started with Compliance Management Gateway: https://wcetsan.wiche.edu/resources/getting-started

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