Ready or Not, Here It Comes! New Regulations When Offering Programs Leading to a License Effective July 1!

There is no more hiding from the eventuality of the effective date for new Federal regulations affecting the institutions serving students in programs leading to a license or certification. Institutions and the U.S. Department of Education (Department) have a common goal to support a student participating in an educational program leading to a state license to complete the state educational requirements to pursue their goal of becoming employed in the occupation for which they were trained and educated.

The new and amended regulations, developed from the Winter 2022 negotiated rulemaking and released as final on October 31, 2023, elevate the responsibility of the institution to certify as provided below for the Program Participation Agreement (PPA) in addition to providing notifications. The additional requirement in the PPA is as follows:

On April 9, 2024, the Department released (GE-24-03) Updates on New Regulatory Provisions Related to Certification Procedures and Ability-to-Benefit. This announcement directs that, before the July 1, 2024, effective date of the regulation, the institution should document any specific barrier to compliance beyond the institution’s control. The Department, in the event of a review or audit, will consider the reason for not complying to determine if any consequences are warranted. This is a limited circumstance compliance extension as the Department expects full compliance related to the documented difficulty by January 1, 2025.

We provided an analysis of the rule when it was released: New Federal Regulations, Part 1: Addressing Programs Leading to a License or Certification.

History of the Rules

Elements of the New and Amended Requirements

New Certification Procedures Regulation to Satisfy State Educational Requirements

Through new regulations, the Department intended to increase the rigor of procedures for the institution’s certification to participate in federal aid programs.The Program Participation Agreement (PPA) is the agreement between the institution and the Department that specifies the conditions of the institution’s participation upon compliance with the provisions of the agreement. Consequences for failure to comply could include an impact on future participation in Title IV programs, fines, and repayment of misspent funds.

The new regulation addressing programs leading to a license or certification is among the new provisions of the PPA. Because the Code of Federal Regulations does not update to include a searchable weblink until the regulations are effective (July 1, 2024), the regulation is provided here with some language in bold for emphasis pertaining to professional licensure programs.

34 CFR 668.14(b)(32)

(32) In each State in which: the institution is located; for students enrolled by the institution in distance education or correspondence courses are located, as determined at the time of initial enrollment in accordance with 34 CFR 600.9(c)(2); or for the purposes of paragraphs (b)(32)(i) and (ii) of this section, each student who enrolls in a program on or after July 1, 2024, and attests that they intend to seek employment, the institution must determine that each program eligible for title IV, HEA program funds—

  • Is programmatically accredited if the State or a Federal agency requires such accreditation, including as a condition for employment in the occupation for which the program prepares the student, or is programmatically pre-accredited when programmatic pre-accreditation is sufficient according to the State or Federal agency;
  • Satisfies the applicable educational requirements for professional licensure or certification requirements in the State so that a student who enrolls in the program, and seeks employment in that State after completing the program, qualifies to take any licensure or certification exam that is needed for the student to practice or find employment in an occupation that the program prepares students to enter; And
  • Complies with all State laws related to closure, including record retention, teach-out plans or agreements, and tuition recovery funds or surety bonds;

These regulations are intended to address all modalities but will have the largest impact on institutions serving students through interstate distance education.

Institutions will no longer be able to serve students in states where the institution does not satisfy state educational requirements except under limited circumstances. This is worth repeating. Although institutions have been serving students across state lines by providing notifications and subject to any state approvals, of course, the institution must now only serve students in states where the institution does, in fact, satisfy the state educational requirements in the state where the student is located.

There are nuances to the statements provided above.

  1. The new rule is not retroactive as it applies to students enrolled on or after July 1, 2024. This is important as it means that there are no new barriers for the student currently enrolled to continue their program.
  2. The rule is narrowly focused on a very specific point in time – “the time of initial enrollment.” The institution’s obligation to satisfy state educational requirements is tied to the time of initial enrollment.
    • The responsibility of the institution to know the location at the time of initial enrollment should correspond to the structure of the institution’s process for determination of location as has been required by 34 CFR 600.9 (c)(2) since July 1, 2020.
    • In the preamble of the final rules, the Department indicated that they recognize that laws change, and students move. Therefore, although the institution satisfied state educational requirements at the time of initial enrollment, if there is a change of law or change of location, the institution may continue to serve the student. The institution must provide the required notifications as indicated below.
  3. The attestation option provided in the regulation directs that a student may be served even if the institution cannot satisfy state educational requirements where they are located IF the student attests that they intend to seek employment in another state and the institution can satisfy state educational requirements in that state. PROCEED WITH CAUTION!
a medical professional helping a patient

The Department has identified triggers for distance education to satisfy state educational requirements. The State Authorization Network (SAN) and many of its members have communicated directly with the Department designated contact for Certification Procedures, who has been very responsive.

We have learned through these communications that the Department maintains that if the student is participating in even ONE course by distance education at the time of initial enrollment, the institution is responsible for satisfying state educational requirements of the state where the student is located. This becomes complicated, especially for institutions that sit near a state line. The institution may have students crossing a state line to participate in the professional licensure program face-to-face on campus but take one online course that could even be a general education course or an elective.

Consider this scenario:

  • A student is enrolled in a healthcare-related program that leads to a license for which all related courses are offered only on campus at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
  • However, the student lives across the Potomac River in Arlington, Virginia, and commutes across the river and state line to class each day. (Commuting to DC from Virginia is not unusual)
  • The student is also enrolled in one online course in let’s say History of Rome for a general education course at the time of initial enrollment (in the first term).
  • The Department considers the location for the distance education course to be Virginia and therefore triggers the institution to be responsible for satisfying state educational requirements in Virginia.
  • Read that again if you need to.
  • If that same student enrolled in ALL courses only on campus at George Washington University in the first term and saves the online course in History of Rome until the next term, there would be no trigger to satisfy state educational requirements in Virginia because the next term would be after the initial time of enrollment.
  • Do not confuse this fact pattern with the situation where an out-of-state student moves to the state where the institution is located to be fully located in the same state or in this case, District of Columbia, to be a resident student. There is no trigger in this case.

The moral of the story, the regulation to satisfy state educational requirements for the PPA is focused on a very specific point in time. Institutions near a state line may want to consider how to address this point in time for its commuter students.


As mentioned above, the regulation includes an option for institutions to serve a student where the institution does not satisfy requirements IF the student attests that they intend to seek employment in a different state and the institution can satisfy state educational requirements in that state. Please note that this is an option and may not be applicable for all students.

The Department indicated in the preamble that they addressed public comments regarding situations where a student is located temporarily in a state and intends to seek employment elsewhere. The Department indicated that they were not inclined for the student to simply provide an acknowledgment that they understand the institution does not satisfy state educational requirements where the student is located. However, the Department did accept that at the time of initial enrollment an attestation that the student indicates a specific state that they intend to seek employment, and the institution can satisfy state educational requirements of that state. There are caveats and nuances presented in the preamble.

Caveats & Nuances:

  1. The goal is sufficient proof from the students themselves of their plans.
  2. Need more than the mere presence of such an attestation alone.
  3. The Department is very focused on how the information was conveyed such that it must be clear that the student understands this attestation.
  4. No new attestation is required if the student moves or changes their mind about future employment location.

We urge institutions to proceed with caution and document well with the attestation option. The attestation is intended to be an option that is a legal acknowledgment of the STUDENT’S location choice for employment and a verification that proper process was followed. We have heard that there are some institutions offering students the choice of where the institution satisfies state educational requirements and encouraging the student to choose from that list and then attest to one of those states. Our opinion is that institutional direction is not the objective of this option in regulation, and we encourage institutions to focus on the voluntariness of the student’s intention of location to seek employment.

Licensing Compacts and Multi-State Agreements

In preamble guidance, the Department indicated that they consider licensing compacts and multi-state agreements/reciprocity to all be forms of licensure. Therefore, it is unnecessary to capture this concept in the regulation. This creates an option in guidance to satisfy the requirements of the regulation. BIG CAUTION FLAG!

First, please note that we are not talking about reciprocity for institutional approval which we know as SARA. This type of reciprocity/agreement/compact addresses programs.

Second, the Department indicated that their policy concerns are addressed if the student can obtain a license through reciprocity that allows them to work in the state where the student is located (as covered by the requirements of the regulation). The Department also indicated that this could be through a full license or a provisional license. The main point is the ability to obtain employment without having to complete any additional requirements or go through a waiting period before being able to be employed.

Third, institutions should carefully review and understand the compact or multi-state agreement privileges and requirements particular to each license, so that the student’s ability to obtain the license in one state corresponds to the ability to be employed or transfer the license to another state. Just because the states are members of the agreement or compact does not necessarily mean that the particular license is transferable. Institutions must complete the research on the compact or agreement and document the implementation well.

Notifications Still Required

The related notifications for educational programs leading to a license or certification have been slightly amended. Institutions must continue to provide public notifications and direct or individualized notifications. The only substantive change is that public notifications are now only required for states where the institution has determined that the institution meets or does not meet state educational requirements. The institution does not need to address all states and territories and is not required to publicly list states for which the institution has not made a determination on whether the institution meets state educational requirements.

The Department provided in the preamble that the notification:

“applies to the States where institutions are enrolling students and where they are either living at the time of initial enrollment or where they attest that they wish to live. If an institution is not enrolling students from a given State, it is not obligated to determine anything regarding that State; it just cannot offer the program to anyone in that State.”

To determine the educational programs which are subject to the notification requirements, the Department directed by email from the Department contact that the structure provided in the regulation applicable for notifications is also applicable for the programs that must be assessed for the PPA. The regulation found in 34 CFR 668.43(a)(5)(v) reads like a checklist that an institution can review to determine whether the program is applicable. This is especially important for programs that have optional licenses or have post-graduation requirements to obtain a license or certification.

We believe it is important to review each of your programs to determine if this regulation applies. We have added bullets and bolded terms in the language of the regulation below to show the checklist structure to determine the responsibility to provide notifications and programs subject to the new PPA requirements. The Federal Register announcement links are provided below for the language that will be put in the Code of Federal Regulations on July 1, 2024.

34CFR 668.43(a)(5)(v) as amended for July 1, 2024:

“If an educational program is

  1. designed to meet educational requirements
  2. for a specific professional license or certification that is
  3. required for employment in an occupation,
  4. or is advertised as meeting such requirements,
  5. a list of all States where the institution has determined,
  6. including as part of the institution’s obligation under § 668.14(b)(32),
  7. that the program does and does not meet such requirements;”

Additionally, direct, or individualized notifications are still required for prospective and currently enrolled students with no substantive change.

34 CFR 668.43 (c) as amended for July 1, 2024:

“(c)(1) If the institution has made a determination under paragraph (a)(5)(v) of this section that the program’s curriculum does not meet the State educational requirements for licensure or certification in the State in which a prospective student is located, or if the institution has not made a determination regarding whether the program’s curriculum meets the State educational requirements for licensure or certification, the institution must provide notice to that effect to the student prior to the student’s enrollment in the institution in accordance with § 668.14(b)(32).

(2) If the institution makes a determination under paragraph (a)(5)(v) of this section that a program’s curriculum does not meet the State educational requirements for licensure or certification in a State in which a student who is currently enrolled in such program is located, the institution must provide notice to that effect to the student within 14 calendar days of making such determination.”

Department Guidance

On February 13, 2024, during a NASDTEC webinar, Department representatives indicated that an FAQ would be released based on the many questions posed to the Department on these regulations. On April 9, 2024, another Department representative at the NASASPS conference confirmed that an FAQ is still forthcoming. As of this writing, a Department representative has indicated that FAQ will be released in May. Therefore, our analysis is based on a review of the preamble and communications with the Department representative.

On April 9, 2024, the Department released an electronic announcement (GE-24-03) Updates on New Regulatory Provisions Related to Certification Procedures and Ability-to-Benefit. The morning of the release, the Department representative at the NASASPS conference indicated that this electronic announcement would soon be released and shared that it expressed the discretion of the Department when reviewing a set of new regulations that included the new requirements for programs to satisfy state educational requirements for the PPA. The flexibility offered was simply that an institution should document prior to the July 1, 2024, effective date the particular barrier to compliance that has been encountered that is outside of the institution’s control. Upon a review or audit, the Department could then consider whether this was acceptable reasoning to not comply by July 1, 2024. The Department added that these barriers should be overcome by January 1, 2025.

 It should be noted that the announcement tended to refer to the institution obtaining approvals from state boards and difficulties obtaining approvals. We wonder if the Department understands that not all professions and states have approval processes to affirm that the institution satisfies state educational requirements to ensure with any legal certainty what the institution is required to certify for the PPA. We will note again that no input from licensing boards or communications was sought by the Department in the development of these rules. The Department shared in the preamble their opinion that the interactions with the professional licensing community were not warranted “… the Department has determined that the institutions should be the ones to work with States to determine if their programs have the necessary requirements for licensure or certification since they know their content and curricula. In making this regulatory change, the Department sought comment from all interested public stakeholders, and received and considered over 7,500 comments on these final regulations.”

Since the release of the final regulations, we have presented to many organizations, including the National Council State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC), Council of State Governments National Center for Interstate Compacts, Council on Licensure, Enforcement and Regulation (CLEAR) and Association for Counselor Education & Supervision (ACES), and most were largely unaware of the development of these regulations. Just last week in conversation with one of these organizations, they thanked us for sharing the contact information for the Department. The organization intended to request a conference call with the Department to explain the state board processes and have a frank conversation regarding that state boards are not in a position to respond to requests for approvals or reviews of curricula for out-of-state institutions to address satisfaction of state educational requirements in the various states. Conversations of this type with a variety of professional boards would have been helpful before or during negotiated rulemaking committee meetings.

What Should Institutions Do?

We encourage institutions to continue the research processes that they were doing to develop notifications and consider the following additional steps.

  1. Revise or develop your institution’s location policy (required in federal regulation since July 1, 2020).
  2. Research state educational requirements where students are served by the institution.
  3. Compare & determine if the curriculum satisfies the educational requirements.
  4. Carefully consider the use of attestation (as this option is not for everyone and documentation is necessary).
  5. Continue to follow a process to provide public and direct notifications relative to the states where students are served.
  6. Communicate with senior administrators and general counsel to consider business decisions about institutional priorities to serve certain states and certain professions.

One last thought, we wonder if institutions should consider sharing these requirements with their various academic departments who may, in turn, share with state licensing boards in the home state of the institution. This could create grassroots opportunities for collaboration and more communication of requirements. Additionally, it would be helpful if institutions could connect and communicate more with their programmatic accreditors about these requirements.

Additional Resources

Please make note of the following resources for institutions! The State Authorization Network (SAN) maintains a landing page on the SAN website dedicated to compliance requirements for programs leading to a license.  Additionally, SAN has developed public-facing and member-only resources housed on the SAN website that address the complexities and help institutions develop compliance strategies. The SAN Professional Licensure Special Interest Team has recently updated the FAQ initially based on questions from the November 2023 SAN and WCET Webinar. SAN is developing a second edition for its Professional Licensure Handbook which is on hold until the Department shares its forthcoming FAQ. For research support, institutions may wish to consider a research license with the Higher Education Licensure Pros.

Finally, if you have additional questions about the regulations, we urge you to communicate directly with the Department’s designated contact, Vanessa Gomez: Telephone: (202) 987-0378. Email:

When the Department’s FAQ is released, we will update all SAN and WCET members plus we will update the Professional Licensure Handbook which will be publicly available. Stay tuned!


Using AI to Empower Learning

Journalists are currently facing an unprecedented challenge. The relentless 24/7 news cycle, coupled with layoffs, an uncertain business model, and a growing public distrust of media, is putting immense pressure on us. This comes at a time when the world is becoming increasingly complex, and journalists need to contextualize fast-paced news and help a divided audience understand the bigger picture, from the roots of conflicts to the future of humanity.

Setting the Stage

It is no small task, particularly as newsroom budgets are shrinking. Venerable news outlets such as the LA Times, the Washington Post, and CBS News have offered buyouts or eliminated positions in the last year. By one estimate, 528 news layoffs happened in January 2024 alone and could reach 10,000 for the year.

Artificial Intelligence in Practice: Journalism

At the same time, artificial intelligence gives those of us in media both consternation and hope. The damaging impact of deep fakes and fake news is very real. News consumers often don’t know if what they see and read is real. Bad-behaving politicians, business leaders, and other public figures now have a plausible response to unfortunate hot mic incidents or leaked videos: that wasn’t me when it truly was.

Some outlets have turned to AI to write stories (sometimes to cringe-worthy results); see that time when Gannett used AI to write high school sports stories. Yet, news companies have used machine-assisted programs for years to write data-driven stories such as weather and stats-heavy sports and stock market reports. New uses include transcribing documents written in other languages and creating a transcript of audio and video recordings, which saves a ton of time for reporters working on deadlines and on longer investigations.

Practical and creative generative AI programs open up many opportunities for journalists working under the gun to report and create content that can help the public understand this complex world. That is why I am (mostly) a fan.

AI in the Classroom

At the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University, I have been at the forefront of integrating AI into coursework. I am a member of several provost-level committees working to figure out how our university should approach AI and learning. We agreed early on to be a mentor and not a cop when it comes to using AI in the classroom. Individual faculty members have the final say in whether to allow students to use AI in their work for a specfic class. The newsrooms at Cronkite are formulating a policy on when and how to use GenAI, as we are integrating an AI-powered production tool into the daily workflow.

At my innovation lab and other courses I teach, I allow the students to research and evaluate different GenAI programs. For example, in my Business and Future of Journalism course (which is mandatory for journalism undergraduate students), we discuss the rise of AI, the danger of deep fakes, and the efforts at detection. In my innovation lab we are using GenAI to create a series of interactive vignettes to tell the stories of the founding of the United States in 1776. The “semiquincentennial” will be celebrated in 2026, but communities, historians, and descendant groups have already begun commemorations. My students and I are creating content for Arizona PBS in connection to the Ken Burns six-part film on the American Revolution, set to air in Sept 2025.

GenAI has allowed my students to go from novices to interactive, gamified story creators in just a few short weeks. Students in each semester since the summer of 2023 have researched unsung participants to tell the rich stories of women, free and enslaved African Americans, poor whites, and the landed gentry who contributed to the revolutionary effort. With GenAI and real-time production tools, we can create a farm in North Carolina with a sky and background scenery created by Blockade Labs, interactions facilitated by Mixamo and, and artifacts brought to life using Lumalabs or Meshy. We research the accents of Colonial-era people and then create voices in Eleven Labs or Play.HT to bring to life their stories which are based on journals or historical documents. We use Transkribus to make Old English script and 250-year-old documents easier to read. We’ve created small animated videos in Pika to power a choice-based game to help younger people understand how dangerous it was to buck the crown in the mid-1770s. We use MetaTailor to help fit period clothes on basic models.

Keeping up with AI Innovation

I learn about new tools and innovative platforms by consuming everything I can, from YouTube videos by creators who showcase how they use the tools, to reviewing news articles about the impact of these new technologies. I’ve fallen asleep many nights watching a video on the latest announcement by OpenAI or Microsoft. Then I try my hand at replicating what I watched before teaching my students. Sometimes they bring new tools to me that they’ve discovered and we learn together. It can be overwhelming because the pace of change is fast, and I say that as someone on the founding team of the Washington Post’s first website after years in the Post newsroom. The evolution of GenAI makes those early, crazy experimental Web creation days seem leisurely.

At the end of the day, we are still all about the story, the history, and the reporting. GenAI has empowered me and my students to create the content that we can see in our minds but were limited in what we could do previously, especially without a big budget. We still happily hire artists with special skills in avatar creation and architectural reproduction but love the fact that GenAI allows us to build so much ourselves.

I know that GenAI will mean many jobs will be lost, others will be transformed, and others will be created, especially for those without years of experience. I know that maligned actors will use GenAI to fool a public already on edge. I believe in the efforts of people trying to create the light that will expose those misdeeds. The future of journalism is already here and I believe it is crucial for my students to be involved in shaping it.


In Defense of Reciprocity – A Joint Letter to the Department of Education & Call to Action

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.


Decoding Generative AI and Equity in Higher Education

In case you haven’t noticed, the higher education world is highly focused on the impact of Artificial Intelligence on the present and future of postsecondary education. AI’s impact has been and will be felt in many facets of our field, especially within digital education. That is why the WCET team has focused on the topic for a large portion of our events, resources, publications, and posts. One thing has remained the same as we’ve tackled the various sides of the challenge and opportunity AI presents us with – the importance of ensuring equitable access to these tools. The thread of access and equity runs through everything we’ve offered and created related to AI. That’s why I’m excited to introduce this post published in collaboration with Every Learner Everywhere, featuring WCET’s very own Van Davis, who has been the mind behind many of our AI-related resources and events. Van discusses the tremendous opportunity we have right now to take advantage of new technologies to increase access and success for all students, and he brings up very valid issues practitioners must consider when using any of these tools in a learning environment. Thanks to Van for participating in this interview and to the Every Learner team for working on this exceptional post.

abstract digital art representing AI
“Artificial Intelligence.” Image generated by CoPilot

Enjoy the read,

Lindsey Downs, WCET

Since consumer-use AI tools like ChatGPT and DALL-E have been released in the last two years, much has been said and written about the influence this technology might have in higher education.

For example, many articles address anxiety about academic dishonesty or about teaching jobs being replaced.

Others explore opportunities for innovative assignment formats and assessments. Few of these discussions look at generative AI, particularly from an equity perspective, and when we do consider AI and equity together we may see a different set of opportunities and challenges.

Opportunities for accessibility and digital learning

“One thing exciting about AI has to do with accessibility,” says Van Davis, Chief Strategy Officer of WCET (the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies).

“We’re seeing really good text-to-speech development, and we’re starting to see speech-to-text as well. So, for folks who may struggle with certain forms of communication, AI has the opportunity to provide a new tool for accessibility.”

For students with learning disabilities, generative AI has the potential for an engaging, efficient alternative to traditional classroom tools. Davis says he’s observed educators creating parameters within ChatGPT to create interactive scenarios that place students in different historical time periods like Renaissance Italy. Essentially, the chat tool is modified to engage with students and present material in a new way.

Another example of expanding accessibility is a faculty member with ADHD who wrote in Inside Higher Ed about using generative AI tools for their own routine tasks like writing conference proposals. While the AI-generated product still required review, it streamlined the faculty member’s process.

Pairing generative AI and equity also has many implications for digital courseware. Davis says many current integrations are on the administrative side of the tool, where faculty get assistance creating course outlines or quizzes. Some institutions are also experimenting with ways that generative AI can be used in developing assignments, he says.

“Particularly with composition courses, there are some really interesting things being done with how students are asked to use the technology in a way that is both pedagogically appropriate for the student, but also in a way that doesn’t succumb to academic integrity issues,” Davis states.

For example, in one assignment he recently observed a colleague use, students used AI to generate a paper, and then the student’s original work was a critique of that paper.

“They basically grade it and fix it and learn to be able to have a reflective conversation about it,” Davis says. “So it tests a student’s subject-matter expertise, but it also helps their metacognitive abilities.”

Pitfalls of generative AI in education

For many educators, the initial fear with generative AI stems from academic dishonesty. In response, many colleagues are using software products that claim to detect plagiarism. As many others have argued, the discourse about plagiarism in higher ed is not race-neutral, so it’s unlikely that conversations about controlling the use of AI will be.

“Oftentimes our conversations sort of start and stop with academic integrity,” Davis says. “Yes, we need to be aware of that. But from an equity perspective, there are bigger issues faculty need to talk to their students about.”

One issue is algorithmic bias, which is discrimination against one group over another due to the recommendations or predictions of a computer program. Systematic and repeatable errors in a system can create unfair results that privilege one group of users over another. An algorithm and its recommendations will appear to be impartial because biased instructions are not explicitly written into it. But the data the algorithm is learning from could have structural and historical bias baked in.

two women sit in front of a building discussing something that is on a laptop in front of them.

For example, suppose a college admissions office wants to use AI to identify applicants who are likely to succeed at their college and the AI relies on that institution’s previous admissions and graduation data. If that data has a lot of students with high school AP classes in it, the software will train itself to treat more AP classes as a signal of quality — even without explicit instructions — and thereby replicate an existing structural bias.

“We have these technologies that we think are dispassionate and incapable of oppression,” Davis says. “In reality, they’re extraordinarily biased. The danger is that we are trained to think it’s unbiased and to trust it more than we trust humans.”

Looking at generative AI from an equity perspective also means thinking about access, since many tools are behind paywalls. For example, many students are using ChatGPT, but some are using ChatGPT Plus — which is more flexible and more accurate — at a cost of $20/month.

“We run the risk of exacerbating our existing digital divide,” Davis says. “We’re going to see some students have access to the best, know how to use it, and have an advantage searching for jobs or trying to get into graduate programs.”

Striking the right balance between AI and equity

“Generative AI is not the Terminator,” says Davis. “It uses probability to predict the next word in a sequence and create new material. There’s a future where generative AI may help develop content, but it’s never going to usurp the role of subject matter experts.”

As Davis has written earlier on this topic, the technology isn’t neutral, nor are our responses to it. Generative AI has the opportunity to revolutionize the classroom and digital learning. But to ensure those changes are for the better, it’s important to assess the risks and the opportunities from an equity perspective.

This post was published in collaboration with Every Learner Everywhere.
The original post was written by Gabe Fink for Every Learner.

WCET logo.
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Beyond the Divide: Advancing Digital Equity and Access

The Foundations of Higher Education in America

engraving of yale in 1708

The idea of education being provided for all didn’t materialize until 1821 when English High School, the first public school in the United States, was founded. Regarding post-secondary education, the Morrill Land Grant College Act of 1862 set aside federal lands to create colleges to “benefit the agricultural and mechanical arts,” according to the act itself. In the spirit of equity, it is important to note these federal lands included seized lands from Native Americans.

Equity: America’s Reoccurring Fight

The significance of this quick account of the foundations of higher education in America is to understand two key elements for the sake of this article. For one, in our current political environment, the idea of diversity, equity, and inclusion being taught in schools has become a point of divisiveness for many. However, this should not come as a surprise. From the beginning of the foundations of American education and post-secondary education, the system was slow to embrace equity in instructional access for those of varying socioeconomic status and gender. America took roughly 200 years to embrace “Common Schools” by developing a public education infrastructure.

Secondly, inequity in resource allocation within education and higher education is not new. In 2020, The Century Foundation (TCF) calculated the level of- financial investment needed to address the resource gap for every K-12 student nationwide.  According to their study, it was determined that the United States was underfunding our public schools by nearly $150 billion annually, negatively impacting predominantly minority and low-income children from a quality education. In 2023, New America published a state and funding tuition study of data from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics. Their study compared how much money underrepresented minority (URM) students receive, on average, in a state compared to other students. Interestingly, the study found that URM students receive an average of $1,752 less per student than other students nationwide.

The Power of Technology

While the power of technology is understood, the question remains: is technological access, implementation, and utilization being distributed in a manner that advances equitable social and economic mobility?  The following are two suggestions for educators and community leaders to consider in efforts to advance digital access and equity:

Understand the difference between digital access and digital literacy.

According to the Urban Institute, digital access is the ability to participate in a digital society fully. This differs from digital literacy. According to the International Centre for Technical and Vocational Education and Training, this means accessing, managing, understanding, integrating, communicating, evaluating, and creating information safely and appropriately through digital technologies for employment, decent jobs, and entrepreneurship. Understanding the two better equips change-makers to develop effective strategies based on their communities’ needs. Essentially, just because access is provided does not mean the end-user knows how to navigate the tool(s). Advancing equity in today’s socio-environment requires efforts that promote digital access and literacy.

The lack of broadband access in rural and tribal communities deepens the digital divide.

The National Digital Inclusion Alliance defines the digital divide as the gap between those with affordable access, skills, and support to engage online effectively and those without. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), 22.3% of Americans in rural areas and 27.7% of Americans in Tribal lands lack coverage from fixed terrestrial 25/3 Mbps broadband compared to only 1.5 percent of Americans in urban areas. The lack of broadband infrastructure in these communities has created a new level of vulnerability, a digital vulnerability, that is crippling digital access, equity, and literacy. Ultimately creating barriers to social and economic mobility compared to their urban counterparts.

In closing, educators, community leaders, and supportive stakeholders are responsible for bringing awareness to the barriers to digital access and equity in the communities and creating systems that seek to uproot previous practices that have failed to promote social and economic mobility.


Call for Action: Contact Elected Officials About Proposed Distance Education Regulations

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.


Major Changes to Distance Ed: Department of Education Rulemaking Final Session Update

quote box: At Rulemaking’s Conclusion…
Negotiations ended March 7. 
The Department considered many issues, we focus on those of interest to WCET & SAN members.
None of the issues we followed reached consensus, therefore the Department will write the proposed and final rules. 
For final regulations published by November 1, those regulations go into effect July 1 of the following year.
If enacted, what is proposed will have a huge impact on students, institutions, and states.
Be ready to make your voice known.

Major changes loom on the horizon for postsecondary distance education programs in the United States, but we are now in a temporary limbo of uncertainty. The Department of Education’s Program Integrity and Institutional Quality negotiated rulemaking sessions ended on March 7. 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 with the responsibility of writing proposed rules. What will they do?

Today’s post is a brief update on the proposals considered and discussions that occurred in the third and final week of negotiations. For context, please review our summaries of the week 1 and week 2 sessions.

During negotiations, the Department’s proposals seemed bearish on distance and digital education. They want to see change.

Just because the proposals are going into hibernation, don’t sleep on them now. We encourage you to stay alert as the changes proposed could have a major impact on distance education and all of higher education. And remember, the Department can now write whatever language it wishes to propose and is not tied to the proposed language from week three. Final language could become less or more restrictive.

In the coming weeks, we will publish a follow-up post with a “call to action” that will include suggestions to work with elected officials. We suggest, if you have not done so, that you begin discussions with your government relations staff. Watch for advice on how to bear up and bear the responsibility of supporting or opposing what is being proposed.


The Department expressed concerns that for purposes of state authorization of distance education, Attorneys General in some reciprocity member states wish to protect their residents by enforcing their own, more stringent, state laws and are unable to do so under reciprocity.

Some negotiators originally proposed to allow states to enforce their own education-specific regulations. In response, some negotiators pointed out that some states have little to no oversight of out-of-state institutions.

To the suggestion that states are prohibited from enforcing these laws, a few negotiators also pointed out that states voluntarily joined the reciprocity agreement, most through state legislation signed by the governor, and are free to leave the agreement at any time if they disagree with the agreement.

Additionally, the Department proposed a revision to the regulation addressing the authorization of in-state institutions that was discussed and revised in week three.

Reciprocity Agreement – Enforcement of State Laws

Sub-Proposal: Institutions Subject to Certain State Laws 34 CFR 600.9(d)(1)(i)-(ii)

The Department proposed language around state enforcement of certain state laws regardless of whether or not the institution is participating in reciprocity. After several variations during negotiations, these three were the Department’s final proposed changes for States participating in a distance education reciprocity agreement:

  1. Retain the ability to enforce general-purpose state laws.
    1. Enforce applicable State laws related to closure, including record retention, teach-out plans or agreements, and tuition recovery funds or surety bonds; and
    1. Allow any member State of the agreement to condition or revoke authorization through reciprocity for violations of general-purpose laws and regulations.

Midway through the negotiations, the Department released proposed language that included that a reciprocity agreement must allow a state to enforce all applicable state laws. This proposal would have severely undermined reciprocity as state oversight and requirements would vary from state-to-state.

The final draft settled that a state can enforce its own general-purpose state laws (as is currently in regulation). These general-purpose state laws include fraud, misrepresentation, criminal acts, etc. This portion of the final proposed language is not a change to current requirements. A few negotiators were adamant that each state should be able to enforce all their rules. They envision reciprocity as merely having a single application and a single fee for all states. That would completely undermine reciprocity, but they will likely push the Department to adopt that position in the published proposal. The Departments’ representative pointedly told negotiators that the Department made concessions in negotiations that it might abandon if consensus was not reached. That was a stark reminder that the impact on reciprocity could, ultimately, be more stringent or damaging than what is reported here.

The Department’s language addressing state closure laws is a change but is consistent with the intent of the recently released final Certification Procedures regulations. However, that language is contrary to the current policy of the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (SARA). The new proposed language would cause SARA to revise its policies to allow states to enforce their applicable state closure laws.

Finally, if an institution violates general purpose laws or regulations, the proposed language allows for any state to limit or revoke authorization through reciprocity in their state. In practice, this already exists in SARA as an institution that violates state laws will be reviewed by their home state with consequences that could affect their participation in SARA nationwide, not just in one state. However, this could result in unilateral state action not currently envisioned in SARA.

Reciprocity Agreement – Complaint Process

Sub-Proposal: Components of a Reciprocity Complaint Process 34 CFR 600.9(d)(1)(iii)-(vi)

The importance of a transparent complaint process for reciprocity agreements was a priority of the Department beginning with the original issue paper released in January. The final proposed language focuses on four features that a reciprocity agreement complaint process must include.

  1. Communicate about student complaints related to state authorization and the reciprocity agreement’s policies with the state where the student is located.
  2. Release a public annual report of student complaints about institutions by number and type of complaint.
  3. Allow submitting complaints alleging criminal offenses and violation of general purpose laws directly to the appropriate state agencies in the institution’s or student’s home state.
  4. Permit states to accept, investigate, and resolve complaints without first requiring the student to go through an institutional process.

While we know the proposed regulations are intended to apply to any state authorization reciprocity agreement that is developed, SARA provides many of these features already. The first three changes proposed by the Department are already in SARA policy. SARA promotes interstate communication about complaints, publishes quarterly complaint data, and allows states to enforce general-purpose laws. One minor difference is that SARA does not currently collect complaints by “type.” There is a proposal in SARA’s policy change process to require the classification of complaints. That proposal is likely to be accepted.

Another difference between the proposed and current SARA policy, is that the SARA policy directs the student to follow the institution’s complaint process before submitting a complaint to the State Portal Entity (SPE) where the institution is located (called the home state). The home state then will collaborate with the state where the student is located, but the home state maintains the final authority. The Department’s proposal recognizes that some states require the student to “exhaust” all grievance processes at the institution before submitting a complaint to the SPE. However, there could be very legitimate reasons a student would wish to address the state without going through the institution’s process.

Additionally, this proposed language suggests that the student could submit the complaint to the state where the student is located, and that state would have the authority to resolve the complaint. Under this proposed language, a state could enforce SARA policy on the out-of-state institution. However, we wonder about the enforcement of state law on an out-of-state institution that has no physical presence in the state. This also could result in State activity that is in conflict with current SARA policy.

Reciprocity Agreement – 500 Student Enrollment Cap in a State

Sub-Proposal: Maximum Threshold of Enrolled Students 34 CFR 600.9(d)(3)

The Department’s proposed language would require that institutions that enroll more than 500 students in a state in the two most recently completed award years may not be authorized through reciprocity in that state. The institution must seek authorization directly from the state.


The basic premise of this proposal is that reciprocity was intended only for institutions with a small footprint in a state. A large number of enrollments increases the risk to the state and it should be more directly involved in overseeing those institutions. Institutions that serve more than 500 students in a state would be required to obtain individual state institutional approval in those states. Reciprocity would only be sufficient for state authorization in the states for which the institution serves fewer than 500 students. Some negotiators sought to set the number at 100 or 200 students in a state. We could see a lower number emerge in the published proposal. On the other hand, other negotiators suggested that there are better indicators of risk than an enrollment count. Smaller fly-by-nights might do more damage than established larger institutions.

This proposed language was only added in week three and, as a result, there was extremely limited discussion and there are many unknowns. Are students participating in experiential learning included in the 500 students? Whose data is being used? Can states provide institutional approval quickly enough for the institution to remain in compliance? Will there be extensions if the state cannot act in time?

And there is one noticeably big question. If an institution serves more than 500 students in a state that has no oversight of out-of-state institutions, how is this proposed language protecting students since it removes student consumer protections in reciprocity and replaces them with no protections?

Reciprocity Agreement – Governance

Sub-Proposal: Representatives Serving a Governing Body 34 CFR 600.9(d)(2)

The Department’s proposed language directs that a governing body for a reciprocity agreement must consist solely of representatives from state regulatory and licensing bodies, enforcement agencies, and the state attorney’s general offices.


The proposal intends to direct the composition of a governing board of a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that is the entity administering the reciprocity agreement and places severe limitations as to those who may serve on the board including barring compacts who facilitate state collaboration to implement the agreement in their region. While it is understandable that states should fill the majority of the seats on a board administering a state-to-state agreement, the Department’s direction limits the ability to include subject matter experts to create sound policy. While we believe the SARA governance structure needs an overhaul that greatly prioritizes state voices, there remains a fundamental question of whether there is the legal authority for the Department to dictate the representation on a nonprofit organization governing board.

State Exemptions for In-State Authorization

Proposal: Revised State Exemptions 34 CFR 600.9(a)

textbox: Proposed: Changes to institutional authorization that will get rid of some state exemptions.

The Department also proposes revised regulations that could change what it means for the institution to be authorized in the state where the institution is located to be eligible to participate in Title IV HEA programs.

In addition to maintaining the 2010 requirement that a state must provide a process to accept and resolve student complaints and enforce state laws, the Department’s proposal revises the ability of the state to offer certain exemptions to state authorization of institutions located in the state.

Under the Department’s proposed regulations, states could only exempt: 

  1. Public institutions backed by the full faith and credit of the state.
  2. Institution chartered on or before November 8, 1965.

Currently, states can exempt institutions based on accreditation or in operation for at least twenty years. Those exemptions would be sunsetted by July 1, 2030. Additionally, an institution would not be exempted if there has been a change in ownership.


The Department expressed concern that in the event of a closure, an institution that is not subject to state oversight because of an exemption would leave a student without protection. The final proposed language allows states to rely on their oversight of public institutions and community colleges as well as provide for the continuation of exemptions for long-standing private institutions. This proposed language was a concession by the Department offered late in the rulemaking negotiations.


The Department put forward a number of proposed regulations that would directly affect distance education including proposed regulations around taking attendance, Title IV eligibility for asynchronous clock hour programs, the creation of a virtual campus designation for distance education programs, and accreditation of institutions offering distance education.

Proposal: Require Attendance-Taking for All Distance Education Courses

textbox: Proposed: For all distance education courses, institutions would need to document attendance and take action for 14 days of non-attendance.

When a student withdraws from a course or institution, the college or university needs to follow a complex set of rules to determine the amount (if any) of disbursed aid that should be refunded to the Department of Education.

If the student withdraws without official notice from distance education courses, the institution must determine the “last day of attendance,” which is defined as the last time the student participates in one of the activities identified as “active engagement” in the course. Examples include taking a test, submitting a paper, or participating in an online discussion about content. Simply logging into an LMS does not count. This determination of “last day of attendance” is a higher bar for online courses than what is required for in-person courses.

To begin negotiations, the Department cited some instances of institutions failing to adequately document the “last day of attendance” or knowingly adjusting the date to lower the amount to be refunded. The Department proposed the following to “simplify” and improve the accuracy of determining the student’s last day of course activity:

  1. Require that attendance be taken in all distance education courses. While they used the word “attendance,” they still seem to mean documenting the last instance of academic engagement for each student. An exception for dissertation research courses was added.
  2. Within 14 days of a student’s last date of attendance, document a student’s withdrawal date.

There was little discussion of this issue during negotiations other than trying to add additional exceptions. The Department said that this would “simplify” the process because institutions are already tracking all academic activities in their LMS. We talked to individuals from several institutions and we reached out to NASFAA (the financial aid organization) about the proposal. With the exception of fully-online institutions and those that are already attendance taking, all of those who responded agreed this would not “simplify” the process and would add more work. They also felt that they are aware of the “last day of attendance” requirement and are able to document it correctly. This regulation would result in more work to arrive at the same artifact that documents the student’s last activity.

Regarding the “14 day” requirement, we will need to clarify the Department’s intent. At one point they said that this would prompt the institution to follow-up with absent students and try to re-engage them. At another time, it sounded like a fixed deadline. Institutions will need to document excused absences for students who (for example) are known to be ill or on temporary military duty. Some institutional personnel said that with post-traditional students, it is common for students to not participate for two weeks (due to personal or work issues), but still complete the course successfully.

Although requested more than once by a negotiator, documentation of the extent of the non-compliance was not provided.

Proposal: Disallow Aid for Clock Hour Asynchronous Courses

textbox: Proposed: Institutions using clock hour financial aid disbursement can no longer offer asynchronous distance education.

Most commonly, federal financial aid is disbursed to students either through the credit hour or clock hour method. The latter is commonly found in practical programs, such as cosmetology, welding, and the like. Aid for clock hour programs is, literally, determined by student participation by the minute. The Department expected that institutions using asynchronous distance education would have “sophisticated technologies” to track that activity. They reported several instances of weak time tracking. As a result, they proposed:

  1. Disallow enrollment in asynchronous distance education courses for programs that use the clock-hour method of financial aid disbursement. 

NOTE: This will NOT affect courses offered through credit hours.


At first, we and our friends at the American Association of Community Colleges had trouble finding affected programs. As negotiations went on, we were able to find more and more institutions that were shocked at the proposal. Negotiators tried a last-minute proposal to save funding for asynchronous clock-hour programs, but it was unsuccessful. We understand the Department’s concern but are afraid it will hurt students in these programs who demonstrate the most need. Requested data on the extent of the noncompliance was not provided. It was unclear why they would ban an entire modality without sharing convincing evidence.

Proposal: Change Accreditation Review Thresholds for Distance Education

Institutional accreditation agencies conduct “substantive change” reviews of institutions when certain benchmarks are reached. It is a logical check to make sure that the institution is acting within its mission and has the capacity to successfully implement new initiatives. The Department requires some “substantive change” reviews and the agencies could have additional requirements. In 2021, the Department of Education guidance charged accreditors with overseeing any program that is offered at a distance “in whole or in part.” The accrediting agencies struggled with this change as nearly every program across the country would trigger the need for this review. The Department proposed the return to a version of the pre-2021 standard without any objections from the negotiators:

  1. Require accrediting agencies to conduct a “substantive change” review of distance education programs or institutions when they traverse any of the following thresholds:
    1. For the first time, an institution offers 50% of a program through distance education. OR
    1. An institution enrolls at least 50% of students in distance education. A student counts as a distance education enrollment if they are taking at least one course through distance education. OR
    1. An institution offers at least 50% of its courses through distance education.

This is an improvement over the current “in whole or in part” criterion, which accrediting agencies had trouble implementing. It is quite reasonable for an institution to be reviewed the first time it offers more than half of a program at a distance. Given the post-COVID world, we strongly believe that many institutions will trigger review by surpassing the second or third threshold. It will be interesting to see how accreditation agencies deal with this requirement as there will still be many, many institutional substantive change reviews as a result.

The Department also proposed to add the following definition (to go into CFR 34 600.2) that will help with these calculations and elsewhere in the proposed rules. Except for the part after the “or,” you might recognize this as the definition used by IPEDS. We were intentional in suggesting that the negotiators make this addition:

Distance education course: A course in which instruction takes place exclusively as described in the definition of distance education in this section notwithstanding in-person non-instructional requirements, including orientation, testing, academic support services, or residency experience.

 Proposal: Creating a “Virtual Location” and Collecting More Data on Distance Education

Institutions are required to report students as participating in one of three physical locations: a) the main campus, b) a branch campus, or c) an additional location. The latter is a: “physical facility that is geographically separate from the main campus of the institution…at which the institution offers at least 50 percent of an educational program.” The Department adds to that last definition and also proposes the collection of additional data about distance education students:

  1. Institutions offering distance education will be required to create a subset of “additional location” called a “virtual location.” That new location will include students for “which the institution offers 100 percent of an educational program through distance education or correspondence courses, notwithstanding requirements for students to complete on-campus or residential periods of 90 days or less.”
  2. As part of institutional disclosures, for each student receiving Title IV aid: “the institution must submit to the Secretary, in accordance with procedures established by the Secretary, a report regarding the recipient’s enrollment in distance education or correspondence courses.

Frankly, we are still trying to figure out the long-term implications. One benefit of the virtual location is that if an institution were to close its entire distance education operations, the affected students would have the same financial aid protections as if the entire institution closed. Additionally, we have long advocated for more collection of data about distance education programs and students. The Department said it will allow it to collect more data about distance education programs, as defined in that section. The other data requirement reported above is more granular as to enrollment in courses. We have many questions about the details about what will be gathered. We have all seen “research” and data analyses that fall short and pin differences in outcomes on the modality. They often overlook differences in the population served. This data can be quite helpful. It would be great to have regulations based on outcomes and not suppositions. Setting the context is important.


The Department also proposed numerous changes to Cash Management regulations associated with Title IV financial aid. Although most of those proposed changes are focused on financial aid processes that are outside the scope of WCET members, proposed changes to including instructional materials in tuition and fees, i.e., inclusive access programs, may impact your institutions.

Proposal: Restrict What Can Be Included in Tuition and Fees

textbox: Proposed: Institutions using “inclusive” or “equitable” access for books and resources will need to allow students to opt-into the program.

Some institutions bundle the cost for instructional materials into a student’s tuition and fees to lower the cost of books and materials as well as ensure that students have all of their instructional materials on the first day of class. The Department, citing a desire to ensure that students have direct control over how their financial aid is spent, proposed removing an institution’s ability to automatically bundle the cost of instructional materials into tuition and fees unless:

  1. Students opt-in to the program each academic term.
  2. An institution can show that the materials are at or below fair market value.

Although the Department had initially proposed regulations that would have allowed for a “health and safety” exemption, that exemption was removed in the proposed week three regulations. Under the final proposed regulations, the only exemption is for confined or incarcerated students.


If the proposed regulations go forward, institutions with opt-out inclusive access programs will need to convert the programs to opt-in. They will also have to show that the cost of the opt-in materials are at or below fair market value. It was unclear from the Department’s discussion how frequently this analysis would need to be conducted. The Department made clear that they greatly valued student choice in how they spend their financial aid and personal funds. Additionally, it does not appear that institutions with practical programs such as welding, cosmetology, or even scuba diving that require specific equipment will be able to bundle the cost of that equipment into tuition and fees. We recognize that may be problematic for programs that require specific equipment as a part of industry standards.


So, what’s next from the Department?

The Department will now work on the final proposed language that may differ from the language that was provided for the final week of negotiations. In fact, on at least one occasion the federal negotiator stated that there would be no guarantee that language negotiated during week three would be reflected in the Department’s final proposed language. Because there was no consensus on any of these issues, the Department can put forward whatever language it wishes.

Once the Department releases the final proposed regulatory language, it will be available for public comment for at least thirty days. Although we are not certain when the Department plans to release the final proposed rules, we have heard a credible rumor that it will be in May or June. Once the Department receives public comment, it must respond to those comments. If it can publish the final regulations by November 1st, then they will go into effect on July 1, 2025. It’s possible that a few sections might have implementation dates beyond July 1 if the Department believes that institutions will need additional time to come into compliance. The Department divided its work into six “issue papers.” It is also possible that they may decide to release proposed regulations for some of those in the coming months and wait on the others.


In the coming days we will continue to keep our ears to the ground and talk with other stakeholders. Additionally, we will publish a call-to-action post in the coming weeks that will contain one-page issue summaries that you can share with your government relations and institutional leadership teams. We suggest that you begin working with your leadership and government relations teams to engage with elected officials if there are portions of these regulations that you either support or are against. Either way, consider the eventual impact that the proposals could have if implemented…on students, on states, and on processes to implement them. Think about what questions you need to have answered.

If the Department plans to publish proposed regulations for comment in May or June, we will have little time to act. Be prepared. 


Unveiling the Highlights: WCET’s 2024 Virtual Summit

That’s why when I say it was a wonderful event that was a pleasure to attend, I may be a little biased (and super proud of my team members who did all of the planning), but not by much. I was simply impressed by the work that went into the event, the amazing presenters and facilitators, and the interaction of the attendees.

This event was particularly significant for higher education practitioners at this moment in time. We’ve started to learn about the highs and lows of AI in higher education, ranging from creative and promising applications to enhance student learning and success, to questions about the use of AI in ways that may not meet academic integrity standards and policies. Students see how AI benefits those in the workplace and want to understand and learn how to use it while they are in school. We see the potential issues when it comes to implicit bias in technologies such as AI and the inherent inequities that exist due to disparities in access to current technological tools, capabilities, and resources. Events such as this year’s Summit provide us with the opportunity to collectively learn from experts and leaders in our field, post questions to both these individuals and fellow attendees, and engage in conversations that benefit everyone.

Key Themes and Topics

Session 1: Embracing AI in Higher Education: A Paradigm Shift in Teaching, Learning, and Administration

We started the day with a welcome and introduction from Van Davis, Chief Strategy Officer for WCET.

thumbnail of the AI Policy Framework. Click link for full version.

My Takeaways from Session 1:

Session 2: Effective Governance for AI in Higher Education

The sessions continued with a conversation about effective governance for AI in Higher Education with Gloria Niles, Karen Watté, and Michael K. Moore. This was an insightful discussion concerning the guidelines formulated by their institutions for the utilization of AI by students and staff. The speakers also elaborated on the various groups of stakeholders involved in the development of their guidelines and policies. Gloria and Karen provided lessons learned from their experiences with AI governance.

My Takeaways from Session 2:

Conversations about the governance of AI should come early and make sure those in the conversations represent the entire institution. A small task force that can be flexible and responsive is helpful.

Session 3: Operational Uses and Considerations for AI in Higher Education

In our next session, Asim Ali, Sheenah Hartigan, and Corey Edwards highlighted the practical applications of AI and provided specific examples of AI use for their colleges and universities. I appreciated learning about the real ways AI is being used to assist with recruitment, student support, admissions, and more.

My Takeaways from Session 3:

AI tools can offer valuable support to staff and faculty, which creates additional time to work on more substantial matters or work one-on-one with more students.

Don’t fear AI technology – it’s coming whether we’re ready for it or not. Join the conversations at your institution or organization. It’s the people who drive the implementation of the technology that will make or break its success. AI is highly capable, but it can’t completely implement itself. 

Session 4: Pedagogical Innovations and Applications of AI in Higher Education

The penultimate session of the Summit focused more on the pedagogical side of using AI and showcased outstanding and innovative approaches that leverage AI to improve teaching and learning.

My Takeaways from Session 4:

It’s time to initiate our own learning and development about AI. And we should actively help our students learn more about these technologies. AI is being used in the workplace already, and we need to help prepare students to utilize these tools ethically and successfully. Keep an open growth mind when it comes to learning about this (and other) technology, starting from a closed and uninformed mindset will only impede your personal growth and that of your students.

Session 5: Student Perspectives on AI in Higher Education

a student waves to a computer screen showing a video conference session with several young adults who may be fellow students and one individual who may be the instructor.

While all the sessions were top-notch, the final session of the day was my favorite. I adore my job and team but often miss working with students, so it makes sense that getting to hear directly from students about their views and concerns about AI was a great way to end the day.

The students who presented, Joe Rendon and Chrischen Thompson, who are currently serving as SAN and Every Learner Everywhere interns, spoke eloquently and knowledgeably about the many uses of AI for students and when each of them uses AI. The use cases included brainstorming a project or piece of writing or helping them process their thoughts about an assignment. They ask questions about formatting and sometimes get ideas for an outline or structure for a paper.

The students cautioned us that it is important to teach students how to write good prompts to use with generative AI and also to make sure that you and your students use the most up-to-date tools. If the AI platform you use is not up-to-date, you run the risk of receiving outdated outputs.

Students want their colleges and universities to specifically detail when it is okay to use AI and when it is not, especially between different courses. The students said that sometimes different classes have different expectations and standards for using AI, and while that’s fine, that information must be clearly communicated and consistently available for reference. All of us need to keep privacy and data protection in mind when working with these tools. I was particularly interested to hear one of the students say that at times they do worry about using AI too much and that they won’t learn as much as they may have in working completely on their own.

My Takeaways from Session 5:

We must clearly outline our expectations for students regarding the use of AI when completing assignments or assessments. The information should be included in the class syllabus, whether it is a class-specific policy, departmental guideline, program-level requirement, or institutional standard. Add a conversation about AI to the time you discuss the syllabus. These approaches will help students see the positives and negatives about using AI for their work, so they can understand when it is helpful and ethical to use these tools.

Thank You

At the end of session 5, Van Davis came back on the screen to thank the students and to wrap up the day. Thank you, Van, for concluding the event and recapping the crucial topics discussed throughout all of the sessions.

WCET would like to thank and celebrate the speakers and facilitators who participated in this year’s summit. We genuinely appreciated hearing about your experiences, thoughts, and feelings on AI in higher ed. We would also like to thank and applaud our attendees for their engagement, questions, and the sense of community they helped us foster during this event.

blocks with the words thank you in multi colors.

Reiterating My Takeaways

Here are the takeaways I included for each session:

  1. It’s time to consider the strategic use of AI, and that use should align with the values of our institution or organization. For example, despite the numerous and exciting possibilities AI presents for enhancing accessibility, it’s important to acknowledge that not all of your students and staff may have screen readers compatible with the latest tools. Accessibility policies should be reviewed with this in mind.
  2. Conversations about the governance of AI should come early and make sure those in the conversations represent the entire institution. A small task force that can be flexible and responsive is helpful.
  3. AI tools can offer valuable support to staff and faculty, which creates additional time to work on more substantial matters or work one-on-one with more students. Don’t fear AI technology – it’s coming whether we’re ready for it or not. Join the conversations at your institution or organization. It’s the people who drive the implementation of the technology that will make or break its success. AI is highly capable, but it can’t completely implement itself. 
  4. It’s time to initiate our learning and development of AI. And we should actively help our students learn more about these technologies. AI is being used in the workplace already, and we need to help prepare students to utilize these tools ethically and successfully. Keep an open growth mind when it comes to learning about this (and other) technology, starting from a closed and uninformed mindset will only impede your personal growth and that of your students.
  5. We must clearly outline our expectations for students regarding the use of AI when completing assignments or assessments. The information should be included in the class syllabus, whether it is a class-specific policy, departmental guideline, program-level requirement, or institutional standard. Add a conversation about AI to the time you discuss the syllabus. These approaches will help students see the positives and negatives about using AI for their work, so they can understand when it is helpful and ethical to use these tools.

Did you attend this year’s Summit? If so, thank you for learning with us. If you weren’t able to attend, don’t worry, we have lots of great events coming up soon!

WCET Webcast: Accessibility in EdTech: How Do Your Products Rate? – 3/13/2024

WCET Webcast: Seismic Shifts in Distance Ed Regulations: Gauging Department of Education Rulemaking – 3/20/2024

WCET Webcast: AI Ethics, Governance, Policy, and Practice in Higher Education: A Strategic Webcast for Leaders and Practitioners – 4/4/2024

Meeting: Distance Ed at a Crossroads: The Changing Landscape of New Regulations – July 30, 2024 – July 31, 2024

Meeting: WCET 36th Annual Meeting – 10/8/2024 – 10/10/2024 **Session Submissions are Now Open! The deadline for submissions is 4/2/2024.

Keep up with all of our events at!


Rethinking Diversity: Prioritizing Access, Equity, and Belonging in the Workplace

Today’s workplaces are ever evolving, and one of the best consequences of that is the pursuit of equity and access. It is imperative that we not only foster inclusive environments but actively celebrate such workplaces that embrace diversity and recognize those individuals working to advance inclusive initiatives.

In today’s post, guest author Sabrina Short, Founder and CEO of NOLAvate Black discusses the power of the inclusive workplace and explores practical strategies and ways to empower those in the environment to truly embrace and support equity in the workplace. Thank you to Sabrina for sharing about this outstanding organization and challenging us to rethink about workplace diversity in a new light.

Enjoy the read,

Lindsey Downs, WCET

I have been very fortunate in my life to be surrounded by people who believed in me, poured their time and affection into me, and supported the progression of my career. Navigating your career can be tough, especially when you feel like you are the only one who looks like you. Early on in my professional journey, I worked for corporate and large organizations. In these roles, I was often the youngest and often the only or one of very few Black people on the team. However, there were those, specifically Black women, in my life who believed in me and opened many doors that helped me get to where I am today. While having mentors who share your background provides validation and safety, cultivating relationships with individuals from diverse backgrounds also brings invaluable perspectives, networks, and opportunities that promote professional advancement.

I am the founder and CEO of NOLAvate Black, a global tech exchange that focuses on bringing resources, funding, expertise, and innovation to our local technology and creative economy.

We started as a conference focused on addressing systematic racism and injustice that prevents Black people and under-resource communities from gaining access to higher demand and higher wage jobs in the technology section. A major part of my work is fostering spaces that are inclusive and accessible, and inciting leaders in the technology workspace to think differently about how they engage underrepresented talent. When building culturally inclusive teams, allies are instrumental in removing barriers, providing access to opportunities, and offering perspective for uncharted spaces. Embracing both representation and diversity in our support networks builds a sustainable organization that can thrive in a multicultural and interconnected world.

Embracing Equity in the Workplace

Building Relational Advocacy

While all three roles—ally, sponsor, and mentor—can contribute to diversity and access in the workplace and professional circles, they have distinct functions and responsibilities:


An ally is someone who supports individuals from marginalized groups, and works to challenge discrimination, bias, and systemic barriers for underrepresented people. Allies often focus on creating a more inclusive environment and raising awareness about issues related to diversity and equity.


Mentors are experienced individuals who provide guidance, advice, and support to a less experienced individual to help them develop personally and professionally. Mentors offer wisdom, perspective, and expertise based on their own career experiences and knowledge. While mentors may also advocate for their mentees’ career advancement, their primary role is to provide guidance, coaching, and developmental opportunities.


A sponsor is a senior-level individual within an organization who actively champions and advocates for the career advancement of an early career professional. Sponsors use their influence, networks, and power within the organization to create opportunities for others. Sponsors are typically more directly involved by providing visibility to decision-makers and advocating for advancement.

When deciding to be an advocate, each person must decide if they have the time, resources and commitment to invest in someone, break barriers that they can’t achieve on their own. No matter what pathway you choose as an advocate, be intentional to actively foster a space where power is transferred, barriers are removed toward access to opportunity, and where there is a redistribution of influence and resources to foster greater equity and inclusion.

Advocacy, in its most profound sense, goes beyond tokenistic gestures and surface-level performative actions to address systemic inequities that have existed for generations. It is crucial to recognize that with the right mentorship and access to resources, everyone has the potential to be successful.

No matter your background, whether as an ally, sponsor, and/or a mentor, we all must work together to amplify the voices of marginalized individuals and ensure that everyone is empowered and valued within our organizations.

Our work is not easy work, as diversity isn’t a priority for many organizations, but it is so worthwhile when I hear “thank you NOLAvate Black, because you changed my life.”

Helping people find jobs, fostering communities of culture, helping businesses secure funding, and supporting companies as they build inclusive teams – not only changes lives, it changes our communities.


Nurturing Digital Learning: Unveiling the HBCU Advantage

A calendar page open to the month of february

This month, February, WCET’s main focus topic has been on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

February marks Black History Month, an observance that honors the rich histories and acknowledges the invaluable contributions of African Americans across various facets of society. In honor of this Heritage Month, we wanted to highlight the the inclusive and supportive nature of HBCUs, especially in the digital education space.

This week’s guest author, Barry Briggs, is currently an intern with WCET and Every Learner Everywhere and is close to completing his Masters degree from Auburn University. Barry has been engaged in research alongside WCET focused on Minority Serving Institutions. Today, he joins us to explore how the teaching and learning philosophy employed by HBCUs, even in the realm of digital learning, significantly impacts the well-being, achievements, and overall success of their students.

Enjoy the read,

Lindsey Downs, WCET

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) stand as beacons of inclusive education, fostering environments where every student’s voice is heard and valued. As we HBCUs now lead the way when navigating digital environments, showcasing a distinctive advantage in digital learning. Today we’re here to unravel the secrets behind this advantage and highlight how other institutions can follow their lead.

Beyond Teaching and Learning: The Rhetoric of Care

In the ever-evolving landscape of education, the concept of a rhetoric of care takes center stage, becoming a defining characteristic of the digital learning experience at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). But what exactly is a “rhetoric of care?” First, let’s discuss the concept of a pedagogy of kindness to see how HBCUs implement these principles and create a uniquely nurturing digital learning environment.


A rhetoric of care in education goes beyond the traditional roles of teaching and learning. It’s a philosophy that emphasizes empathy, understanding, and genuine concern for the well-being of students.

At HBCUs, this approach is not just a strategy; it’s a fundamental aspect of their educational ethos. In the digital realm, a rhetoric of care manifests in various ways, each contributing to a more holistic and supportive learning environment. This manifestation involves:

  • actively listening to students,
  • understanding their individual needs, and,
  • adapting teaching practices to foster a sense of belonging.

In the digital context, this translates to faculty members going the extra mile to connect with students on a personal level. Regular check-ins, virtual office hours, and personalized feedback become not just tasks but expressions of care, ensuring that students feel seen and valued in the virtual classroom. These spaces have a culture of kindness woven into the fabric of every interaction. Faculty members model kindness through their communication, fostering a sense of community that transcends the digital divide. This intentional approach to teaching creates a ripple effect, as students, in turn, engage with course materials and their peers with a spirit of empathy and collaboration.

A great example of such an approach is the Psychiatry Clerkship at Morehouse School of medicine.

quote textbox: “In the digital context, this [“rhetoric of care”] translates to faculty members going the extra mile to connect with students on a personal level...

These spaces have a culture of kindness woven into the fabric of every interaction...

This intentional approach to teaching creates a ripple effect, as students, in turn, engage with course materials and their peers with a spirit of empathy and collaboration.”

The medical school collaborated with students to build a six-week e-learning Curriculum. Student exit surveys showed that students appreciated the inclusion of asynchronous e-learning modules into their curricula. 90 of 95 students who completed the psychiatry clerkship during the 2020-2021 academic year completed the exit survey, and 90 out of the 95 of students appreciated self-directed learning portion of their modules. This feedback indicates that there’s positive relationship between student comprehension and autonomy in learning. On a scale of 1-5, 5=most beneficial and 1=least beneficial, the ADMSEP e-modules received an average score of 4.16. This module was also free to the students. The Online MedED-Case E, a case assigned online and paid by the institution, received an average score of 3.93.The clerkship models the rhetoric of care philosophy by giving students power over their digital learning space. They played a huge role in how they online section of the course was crafted.

The result of implementing these models is an HBCU digital learning experience that is  both an academic journey and a transformative and enriching period of personal and intellectual growth. The combination of a rhetoric of care and a pedagogy of kindness sets HBCUs apart, creating a model for digital learning that prioritizes the holistic development of each student. In the next sections, we will explore how these principles extend beyond individual interactions to shape the broader inclusivity and collaborative spirit that defines HBCU digital learning.

Creating An Inclusive Online Campus Culture

Inclusivity is a hallmark of HBCU campuses, and this ethos can be extended into the digital realm. HBCUs leverage technology to replicate the on-campus inclusive atmosphere and move it online. Virtual clubs, events, and forums provide spaces for online learners to connect, fostering a sense of community regardless of physical location. The HBCU advantage lies in the ability to make each student feel valued and included, transcending the boundaries of the virtual classroom.

As part of my internship with Complete College America (CCA), I worked with a team of other students and staff to create a virtual app that could be pitched as an idea to our respective campuses.

College students using a laptop

These apps would have a plethora of virtual clubs and activities for students.  Working on this project with CCA gave me the opportunity to be at the forefront of shifting the Digital Landscape at HBCU and higher Ed spaces abroad, and the assignment left us with a glimmering hope for the future of digital learning at HBCU’s.

While working with CCA, we shared our individual experiences with technology at our individual HBCUs with the purpose of improving the digital learning landscape for future students. We envisioned apps, held talks with educational professionals, and took the time to assess how HBCUs can translate their rich cultural heritage to the digital learning space. We also discussed in detail updates to policies that will provide equitable student access educational technologies. By sharing our own individual student experiences, we began to imagine innovative ways to level the playing field for all students. ChatGPT and other Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools were at the forefront of many of our panel discussions. In the end, many of us believe AI will be instrumental in shifting the current educational landscape.

Elevating the Digital Learning Experience

HBCUs elevate the voices of their students in the digital learning landscape and their commitment to student input goes beyond lip service; it drives continuous improvement in digital learning practices. Morehouse  self-directed online learning modules have created the blueprint for transforming the digital learning sphere at HBCU’s and universities abroad. Dedicated platforms for feedback and suggestions empower students to actively shape their educational journey. HBCUs understand that by listening to students, they not only enhance the learning experience but also cultivate a culture of responsiveness and adaptability. The Collaborative E-learning program at Morehouse is a great example and can serve as a blueprint for other universities to follow.

The HBCU advantage in digital learning is a testament to their unwavering commitment to a rhetoric of care, inclusivity, collaborative assignment design, and amplification of student voices. The practices used by HBCUs can inspire and transform broader educational institutions. The lessons learned from HBCUs underscore the profound impact of nurturing, inclusive, and collaborative approaches to education, setting a high standard for the future of digital learning. Now is a great time to learn from HBCU’s digital learning practices and proactively influence the educational landscape rather than simply reacting to it.