Put Down the Shiny Object: The Overwhelming State of Higher Education Technology

At this year’s WCET Annual Meeting, Brandon Karcher, the Manager of Instructional Technology at Bucknell University, facilitated an unconference session titled “Higher Ed Technology: Innovative or Overwhelming.” A thought-provoking Twitter thread flowed from the session, further considering the proliferation of technology tools used in the college classroom today. We here at WCET were thrilled when Brandon accepted our invitation to continue the discussions started in his Annual Meeting session. Brandon asks some great questions about student tech use and provides several suggestions on the best ways to be more supportive of our student’s success.

Enjoy the read,

Lindsey Downs, WCET

Prior to the Fall 2022 semester, I participated in the Online Learning Consortium (OLC) Online Teaching Certification Course, which led me to redesign a course that I had not taught for a number of years. Throughout my design process, I found myself conflicted. I was excited about all of the new things I wanted to try but knew that for the sake of my students, I needed to pump the brakes. More specifically, I knew that I needed to limit the number of technologies that I would ask my students to use. It’s staggering to consider the number of systems, websites, software packages, and other technologies that students have to navigate simply to be successful students in higher education. For my students this past Fall, who were also my advisees, they often told me about the struggles they had in various courses, or when registering for classes. With each new tool, they had to learn something new, figure out a new set of idiosyncrasies, and navigate another set of expectations. The amount of technologies used certainly varies from university to university, but students likely encounter a dozen or more by the end of the first year, and that number only grows. Students need to figure out the learning management system, email, and every instructional technology along the way that faculty require (not to mention everything that isn’t directly course related). It’s hard enough that the tools used from course to course vary, but students also have to deal with them being used inconsistently as well. This issue is further compounded by faculty expectations not aligning with of the digital skills that students have when they arrive on campus. These factors have created an environment where students are truly struggling to navigate the quagmire that is technology in higher education.

During the 2022 WCET conference in Denver, I hosted an unconference session titled Higher Ed Technology: Innovative or Overwhelming? This post is an expansion on the ideas shared during that session and a reflection of some of the recent work I have been doing to examine student perceptions of technology use.

To examine this further, I’ll share a couple of examples where I see students struggling with technology and then offer next steps to consider.

What’s Working and What Isn’t?

One of the first things support staff should be doing is talking to our faculty and especially our students (this is not a hot take, I know). The question posed in the title of this section, “What’s working and what isn’t?” is the same question that we asked both faculty and students at Bucknell in 2021 as part of our Learning Management System (LMS) evaluation of Moodle.

We were beginning to emerge from an extended foray in emergency remote instruction and were hoping to better understand our student and faculty perceptions, pain points, and success stories related to Moodle use. We knew that our students and faculty had relied on Moodle more than ever before and we wanted to know how it went. Here’s what students told us:

  • The most reported major struggle was focused around inconsistent layouts from course to course, which led to confusion.
  • An often reported but related struggle was with grades and deadlines, which were inconsistently posted or, in some cases, not posted at all.
  • Students also commented on the sheer number of tools that were necessary to learn and keep straight.

While these highlight the most reported pain points for students, it’s important to note that when we asked them for good examples of Moodle use, students mentioned specific courses that did a good job organizing content in a way that was intuitive and easy to follow, had clear deadlines, and consistently posted grades.

This past fall, we spoke to students again to have the same conversations, ask the same questions, and see how things were going with Moodle use. Bucknell was back to full in-person teaching and we needed to see if the same pain points were there – spoiler alert, they were.

Students echoed the comments and feedback we had received prior, struggling with inconsistencies and confusion in their courses. This highlighted to us that student struggles were not limited to emergency remote instruction, but were present regardless of modality.

Student Digital Skills: Expectations vs. Reality

The idea of a “digital native” is certainly problematic and something that I and others often push back against. We need to stop thinking of our students as this group of learners that just inherently know how to use digital tools. Over the past few years, and increasingly during the COVID-19 pandemic, we heard from frustrated faculty members about the digital skills our students lacked. Faculty members expectations of what students knew did not match reality. The digital skills that students bring to the table are changing and are often not what faculty members expect. Recently, an article in EdSurge by Lilah Burke explored this exact discrepancy.

Like the faculty members in that article, our faculty have reported similar issues, repeating a common frustration that students do not know how to use Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets, or similar spreadsheet software. Many have also noted that, when asked, students cannot find or locate files, nor do they understand how basic file structures work. While these skills may be important, the technologies that students are exposed to prior to college vary wildly and often work fundamentally different than they used to, no longer requiring, for instance, the need to locate files in a file structure.

Our response to this at Bucknell has been to create a learning community with faculty and staff members from the library, IT, and various departments on campus. Our goals are to:

  1. identify which digital competencies are the most important for student success,
  2. determine where digital skill gaps exist, and,
  3. gather campus partners to learn how we can better prepare our students.  

So, What Now?

Part of my job as the Manager of Instructional Technology at Bucknell is to explore and pilot new technologies, evaluate the tools that we already have, and to be a leader on campus for instructional technology. This is not a unique role and a version of it exists at many (if not most) universities. As someone with this role, I find myself in a precarious position where I must discuss the overwhelming amount of technology that students face but also support the use and development of said technology. However, I truly feel that while technologists, designers, and IT leadership (among others) may have contributed to this problem, we can and should be part of the solution. Here are my thoughts on moving forward:

  • Our faculty need more increased opportunities to participate in and more effective workshops that focus on digital pedagogy and push them to focus on what they want students to do, not the technology alone.
  • Those of us in IT leadership roles need to be advocates for students when it comes to technology on campus and to consider broader, student-centered implications of our decisions.
  • Decision makers, designers, and technologists need to be empowered to say no to requests for new technology, especially when it contributes to the proliferation of tools that students need to contend with.
person gestures to laptop screen
Photo by Headway on Unsplash

While support staff have a role, so do faculty. Something that I struggle with is the never relenting fight between academic freedom and standardization for the sake of students. Students are practically screaming for more consistency in their courses when it comes to technology use and we see this sentiment in the recent work at WCET.

I get asked weekly to check out or consider a new technology that a faculty member wants to try and my feedback always begins with the feedback from our LMS survey and a discussion about technology as well as learning goals. In order for faculty to help us alleviate technology overload, they have a key role and should consider:

  • Helping students understand why you are selecting a specific tool. In his excellent book, Intentional Tech, Derek Bruff discusses not only the importance of scaffolding the use of technology but also explaining the why of technology use to students. Students need to understand why you are using technology and to be provided with adequate training on how to use it.
  • Consider and embrace consistency for the sake of students. As a direct result of our student feedback, we developed Moodle templates in collaboration with campus leaders among the faculty and have had very positive feedback, especially from new faculty.
  • Put. Down. The. Shiny. Object. Similar to support staff saying no, we also need faculty members to consider putting down the shiny new tool. Most campuses have a whole suite of instructional technologies that are integrated with campus systems, making them easier to use for students, and often alleviating FERPA concerns. Trust me, I know that your tool has this one really cool feature, but maybe consider not adding yet another thing to the plates of your students?

Ultimately, my hope is that by working more closely with faculty, IT leadership, and students, we can continue to improve student experiences when it comes to technology and put them in a better position to focus on the content of their courses, not the technologies that are used in them. However, this is a group effort and requires significant work from staff and faculty. I’m confident that we will continue making strides and I look forward to continuing to work with our students to make sure their needs are put first. I hope that you’ll do the same.


We Can’t Go It Alone – Forging Business and Industry Partnerships to Transform Higher Education

Today we welcome back Kara Monroe, friend of WCET and President and Founder, Monarch Strategies, to continue her discussion of the future of higher education. Specifically, today’s post focuses on institution and industry partnerships and how institutional leadership and staff can ensure that these partnerships flourish and, ultimately, help our students be more successful.

Take it away, Kara!

Enjoy the read,

Lindsey Downs, WCET

In my previous post this month, I talked about the need for higher education in creating a vital American economic future. Even as our institutional enrollments decline, employers are demanding more workers with new skills and abilities – two trends that appear as if they will continue at least for the near future of this current decade. In that post, I suggested three things that we in higher education must do:

  1. We must do what is hard
  2. We must do what students need
  3. We must hold accountable those who hold us accountable

In this post, we’re going to dig into the specifics of one way you might bring each of these three things to life as we talk about forming deep partnerships with the businesses and industries that you serve.

What Businesses Does Your Institution Serve?

When I visit colleges and universities around the country, I often ask Presidents and Provosts who their primary employers are. It is a sure sign of trouble when neither of these individuals can name the top two or three employers of their students.

In order to build strong workforce partnerships, you must first know who it is that your students find their way to after graduation. While many business engagements with colleges and universities begin as alumni relationships or sitting across the table in an economic development trip to lure a new business to a community these are not the stuff true partnership is made of.

Institutions that continue to rely on only that final graduate survey to identify employers are not doing what is hard. These surveys often yield results of only 10 – 20% and with results coming from only our best and brightest students. We must leverage student relationships with their program faculty to gather better data and even mining publicly available data to help us identify where students are working.

What Businesses Should Your Institution Be Serving?

As you get a better understanding of the business and industry community your institution serves you must also consider the other organizations that SHOULD be on that list. Given the programs and services offered at your institution, what organizations should be on your list of businesses and industries? I do not, in any way, intend for this to be an aspirational list. This should be a factual list of the organizations that need your students in order to thrive. Far too many educational leaders are obsessed with building their own ego because they can talk about the number of Fortune 500’s students are employed at and similar statements. Those are NOT the organizations that need your help in your local geographic area. Research conducted in 2009 found that students travel a median distance of just 94 miles to go to college. While many factors influence how far a student may be willing or able to travel to attend college – and certainly the availability of online education may drive significant change here in the future – you should begin identifying those businesses your institution should be serving close to home and work outwards from there.

Once you have both lists – compare them. This will help you identify where to begin in building new partnerships.

What is the Strength of Our Partnership(s)?

Once you’ve identified the partnerships you should have it is time to begin to assess their strength. This step is far too often skipped in higher education institutions. Yet, it is critical to help prioritize how individuals in the institution spend their time – something often lacking or at least overlooked as C-level leaders simply make agreements about institutional time and resources without necessarily weighing the cost of those agreements against any set of benchmarks.

The best set of assessment criteria for partnerships that I’ve come across comes from the US AID Momentum Report. This report, while primarily focused on the workings of governments and NGOs, summarizes work that is similar to much of what we undertake in higher education. The language to describe partners might vary a bit but the principles are highly generalizable. If you’re serious about undertaking this work, the report and many of the links out of the report are worth your time to read but for the purposes of this post, I’ll summarize the factors identified as critical to the strength of a partnership.

First, USAID points to the Sustainable Development Goals Handbook’s levels of partnership:

Figure of "the partnership spectrum." State one, leverage/exchange. Partners deliver resources to derive benefits. Stage two: combine/integrate. Partners combine similar or complementary resources to delivery impact more effectively, efficiently, or creatively. Stage three: Systems transformation, partners bring essential complementary resources" that create systems level change not possible individually.
Image Source: USAID Momentum Report

So, begin here – identify the state for each of your partnerships. I’ll dig more deeply into what each of these stages tell us about overall partnership health in the companion piece to this post available to WCET members in wcetMIX (coming soon!).

Next, you can undertake a partnership assessment that is more thorough. The Momentum Report includes several key points you may wish to assess along with a survey of assessment instruments in the field. In the WCET Member companion piece, I’ve provided a rubric that has been valuable for me in assessing partnerships and a look at how to conduct that assessment without it being burdensome.

What is the Institution’s Partnership Capacity?

Partnership strength often rests on the shoulders of the individuals engaged in the partnership. As a former C-level institutional leader, I know full well that I often asked already overcommitted individuals to take on an even higher level of responsibility and commitment without offering them any real way to balance the workload. So, in this specific question, I’m calling on all of us to do better than I did.

For many institutions this can start with a simple survey of faculty and staff focused on two sets of questions:

  • What organizations are you a part of and what’s your role (i.e., firms advisory board members come from that you should be better serving, Chambers of Commerce that represent organizations you should be serving better, manufacturing and business consortiums)?
  • What organizations do you have relationships with and what are those relationships?

And, please, don’t just send out a survey with these questions in it and not expect extreme pushback. This type of inquiry MUST be grounded in a trust ethic that, if not present at your institution, implies work you must do before you ever start to assess your external partnership capacity. Start with your internal partnership capacity and make sure that everyone in your institution has opportunities to be heard, to take risks, and to engage in ways that allow them to showcase their knowledge, skills, and abilities.

In a high trust organization these questions can enlighten inroads to organizations that you had no idea you already had such deep relationships with. An institution in a “factory town” that I visited several years ago was struggling to help that factory see its value until they did a survey like this one and realized that more than 80% of their employees had a spouse or child employed in the factory. Taking this one piece of data to the manufacturer’s leadership team opened up new conversations that had never before been possible. It seems like a small and insignificant fact, but it launched a massive partnership.

What Must the Institution Stop Doing?

I’m going to close this piece with the hardest of the questions I have for you – what must we stop doing to make room for what we must start? I have found that nearly everyone in a higher education institution is willing to tell you what someone else should stop doing (that requires work on their part for it to be successful) but are far less likely to list anything that they should stop doing. The partner of this is focusing only on those things to stop doing that would require massive shifts in government and accreditor guidelines rather than focusing on what is actually happening.

Don’t dismiss these things that require massive government or accreditor shifts. You still need to work diligently to chip away at these – and that is largely the role of Directors and above – but you must NOT let these sideline what can actually be stopped within the institution. I also urge you not to focus only on those items that point to a need for process improvement. While those items will inevitably come out in these types of exercises, they will not lead to the type of real time freeing change that you’re seeking. They are valuable, but not the highest value possible from this exercise.

So, you must identify instances where there are things that – oftentimes – rest in individuals’ whole reasons for having a job. A campus under my purview was drowning in “schedule change.” emails. When I dug into the issue with them, we realized that one administrative assistant was sending out an average of 40 emails a day during peak registration periods. For a community college on a predominantly eight week schedule, that really felt like it was all the time. Several of her other duties had been taken over by automation and process improvement and to make sure she appeared busy and essential to everyone around her she started “monitoring” the schedule to “help” program chairs know when to add new sections, close sections, etc. The only problem was it was adding to the workload rather than decreasing it. And this person was smart and talented – her skills could be used in many better ways. When her supervisor finally had a real conversation with her about her goals, he learned she wanted to be an academic advisor but couldn’t afford to go to college to get her bachelor’s degree. She wasn’t aware of the HR policy for tuition reimbursement and that essentially she could earn that degree for almost nothing out of pocket. That simple conversation put her on a new life path that she found far more fulfilling and improved institutional capacity. Are they all this easy to solve or this positive in outcome? Not at all. However, these are the types of things you must dig into and really suss out if you’re going to figure out what you must stop doing.

 Join Us for What’s Next

These steps create a framework on which you can build and sustain partnerships. I’ll go into even more depth on many of these pieces as well as steps specific to building partnerships in the companion piece available to WCET members inside of wcetMIX. We’ll also discuss these together  – learning from others what has worked and what hasn’t – in this month’s Closer Conversation on Jan 27, 2023 – also available to all WCET members.


Call in the Creatives! Reasons the Next Digital Learner Leader You Hire Should Come from The Arts

Today’s post, from three inspirational leaders in the digital and eLearning fields, considers the strengths brought from those who have a background in The Arts. As a musician, theater nerd, and amateur embroiderer, I absolutely enjoyed their discussion and wholeheartedly endorse their advice!

Thank you to Sasha, Jessica, and Jamie for today’s article!.

Enjoy the read,

Lindsey Downs, WCET

Alert your recruitment team – the arts are an asset

Chances are if you’ve worked in the field of eLearning for any length of time, you’ve had a leader with a hidden background in the arts. These individuals have developed unique and transferable skill sets that are increasingly valued in the workplace. You may recognize them as creative individuals with problem-solving skills who aren’t afraid of hard work. They ask for and provide feedback, and critiques they receive are seen as healthy and necessary parts of the team dynamic. They set a clear vision and systematically focus on delivering it. Most importantly, they get things done. A lot of things.

Many of these leaders had to hide or recast their arts backgrounds when transitioning into the digital learning field.

Before you pass up that resume filled with arts experience and expertise, know that leadership is less about specific technical or subject-matter skills, and far more about creating and communicating a clear vision, orchestrating a productive and engaged team dynamic, inspiring a team to work hard with habits that develop excellence, and managing to that “hard deadline.” If you understand these characteristics, those resumes represent the candidates that are the most qualified, because they’ve been developing these skills for a lifetime.

Leaders from the Arts are Visionary – Sasha Thackaberry

What is the vision? People who have spent years in the arts understand that the vision comes first. The concept of the end state of artwork – whether it be the performance, the show in the gallery – that state is the goal, first and foremost, always. This vision is more than motivating, it is animating. It is the reason for it all.

Leaders who have “grown up” in the arts bring that vision fever to their work. The reason needs to sit at the core of the everyday. It is bigger than ourselves, but it is also more specific than “student success” or “enrollment growth.” It is a shared vision of the future creation that everyone contributes to. 

This vision is so important that there is no room for fear or risk aversion. Built into the artistic process is the potential for failure – sometimes a large potential for failure – and that, too, is animating. It propels constant forward progress. Jeanette Winterson, a writer of extraordinary talent, put it simply when she stated that “From our fear comes our safety.”

But the “how” is the hard part. Artists, and performing artists specifically, have an ability to declutter, to get rid of the unnecessary to focus on the most important pieces of executing that vision. Ruthless prioritization is not optional. There is a date that cannot be pushed back because tickets have already been sold, the gallery has already been booked, the lighting crew is only available for that timeframe. So leaders in the arts have to make hard decisions around what gets time and effort and when. 

This relentless focus on “what really matters” enables leaders who come from the arts to bring continual focus and prioritization towards the end goal into the everyday. That synthesis of vision and ruthless prioritization is what ensures that, when the curtains part on the opening night, the performers are ready to go.

It also means letting go of ancillary needs, pivoting when the inevitable constraints come up, and continually adjusting to deliver on that vision. In the words of Tyler Durden, it is “the ability to let that which does not matter, truly slide.”

Leaders from the Arts Fail Forward – Jessica Stanfill

Putting vision into action can be daunting for many. Who hasn’t felt paralyzed by the mountain of work required to accomplish a goal, the fear of imperfections, or the haunting voice that tells all of us I am just not good enough? The artist is equipped to get to work despite these fears because of the very nature of art making. Through relentless practice, day after day, where ideas are tried and sometimes fail, the artist has built a reservoir of confidence, knowing that practice makes perfect, mistakes can be embraced, and evaluation is a part of the process.

An artist can get to work immediately because they know that their very first try is not precious. It is just the very first act on the journey to the final performance. There is no risk in diving in when you know whatever you accomplish today isn’t the finale. And that confidence is more fueled by the notion that one piece of the puzzle doesn’t equal the whole. A less-than-stellar start will not determine the outcome, only not starting will.

For someone who has spent a lifetime practicing an artistic craft, they believe even a terrible start is a good start because they know that mistakes are gold. The realization that something doesn’t work is just as informative as when something does work. An A-HA! moment is not always when it was done right. In fact, we are most apt to learn and grow when we are in the process of doing something new and foreign and we fail miserably at it. For the painter, the very act of creating a finished painting is the application of paint and the removal of it – building something up and taking the mistakes away.

The internal critique is a constant part of the process as the artist looks for that gold in the wash pan. And the artist knows where to find the mistakes by asking others. A person who has spent time developing an artistic craft is comfortable in the space of open, honest, and oftentimes brutal dialogue around their work. They have learned that great wisdom can come from the unique perspectives of others. They alone do not hold all the answers, and the artist has developed a great desire to hear everyone else’s opinion, and seek out the most transformative ideas that others present to them. As the famous writer of Fight Club Chuck Palahniuk declared after being complimented on his work, “I am merely the sum of everyone who has taught me anything at all.”

Leaders from the Arts Orchestrate Culture – Jamie Holcomb

“[A conductor’s] happiness does not come from only his own story and his joy of the music. The joy is about enabling other people’s stories to be heard at the same time.” – Itay Talgam

Great performances look easy, are seemingly effortless, and are a joy to experience from start to finish. Everyone touching the performance in some way is happy and having fun. You know you’ve experienced something special when this is the case. That said, it is no accident nor coincidence that these outcomes were observed, and success achieved. Leadership in the arts relies on a unique and complex understanding of team dynamics and culture development that values each and every member of the team for what they uniquely contribute both individually and to the ensemble as a whole. 

Image by artesitalia from Pixabay

For the conductor (leader), one must consider balance, blend, intonation, dynamic contrast, harmony, melody, and the story to be told through the music for the listener (goal). As leadership expert Simon Sinek has emphasized, success starts with “why.” Building team dynamics begins with clearly defining the ensemble’s goal (telling the story of the music) and a purpose greater than oneself – the team’s why. Balance, blend, and intonation are all related to team dynamics. Essentially, leaders are looking to make sure the team has all of the parts necessary to be successful, that they are all heard, and that no one section/voice outweighs the other, which can create challenges. 

Leaders in the arts work to meld voices together so that they are seamless to the audience. To achieve this, a leader develops listening skills and flexibility so that performers are constantly listening to one another and adjusting appropriately in the moment to support the larger goal. For a leader in the arts, the supporting lines are just as important as melody, and each performer is trained to lead and support interchangeably so that there are leaders in every seat. With an ensemble where everyone is both a leader and a supporter, performance outcomes are enhanced because accountability is high (no hiding), but there is also the support necessary to be successful. When everyone contributes, is accountable to the group, is aligned to the mission/goal, and sees the value in all voices/parts, the team takes on an energy of its own that embraces challenges and finds joy in working and performing together.

Ready for Curtain Time

Time is a finite resource. Using that time effectively is paramount. This is where skills gained through art experiences become great assets for those attempting to meet organizational goals and objectives. 

Artists understand that perfection is unattainable. Deadlines are immovable. The doors will always open. The curtain will always go up. The audience will always evaluate your work. Artists are fearless in the face of criticism; critique is the way it is.

Leaders with arts backgrounds have spent lifetimes working efficiently towards deadlines. Project management skills are honed over decades, skillfully choreographing multiple moving pieces into a coherent whole in a tight timeline. 

Image by Sabine Lange from Pixabay


Accountability for Higher Education Means Creating a Vital Economic Future for America

Does anyone else feel like we are constantly on a precipice – waiting for the next “big thing” to tip us over? I do feel that way often, whether I’m thinking about my professional life, technological advances, or an innovative VR art exhibit I really want to check out.

Higher Ed is having one of those moments. And its not quite as intriguing as ChatGPT or visiting a museum by wearing a VR headset, but important nonetheless. Our tipping point however, is due to changes in our economy, population, and workforce needs.

Today we welcome Kara Monroe, longtime colleague and friend of WCET and President and Founder, Monarch Strategies, to discuss current higher ed enrollment predictions and the demands from employers that we must answer. It’s higher ed’s time to shine (and hopefully not tip over the edge).

Kara will be writing another post this month as well as several resources for WCET members. Stay tuned!

Enjoy the read,

Lindsey Downs, WCET

A few days ago, I watched the Netflix documentary about music producer David Foster. In describing his childhood, Foster said, “We had no money but we weren’t poor.” Foster grew up in a two parent household where dad worked and mom stayed home to raise seven children. That line struck me – it feels so impossible to achieve a semblance of that life in today’s world. Today, being poor seems so much harder to overcome than it did in the 1950s when Foster came of age.

Graphic highlighting child poverty rates by state in 2021. 
Three-quarters of states in the South region (12 states) and the District of Columbia had child poverty rates of at least 18.0%.

The Midwest and Northeast each had only one state with child poverty rates of at least 18.0% and the West had two.

Child poverty rates by state:

    Among the lowest were Utah (8.1%) and New Hampshire (9.2%). (These estimates are not significantly different from one another.)
    Among the highest were Mississippi (27.7%), Louisiana (26.9%) and the District of Columbia (23.9%).
Poverty Rate of Children Higher Than National Rate, Lower for Older Populations

My parents were able to put together a really great life for me and my three siblings. We had a little money but at times I considered us poor – particularly in comparison to some of my peers. Neither of my parents had a college education.

My dad tried at college and failed. My mom, who would likely have been the first of us to earn a doctorate had the opportunity been available to her, was kept out of the higher education arena by time, circumstances, and some of her own decisions.

But, today, poverty is, particularly for children, in some places as high as it was when Foster was coming of age. The poverty rate in 1950 was 22% – the highest on record. Today, at its surface, the poverty rate in the US is much lower – about 11.6%. However, when you drill into it you realize that the variation tells the real story. Child poverty tops 22% in many places and poverty levels vary by state for all age groups.

What is also interesting to consider as we think about the poverty rate is that the percentage may have changed, but as the American population has decreased dramatically over the last few decades, the actual number of people living in poverty has not changed. This is an interesting highlight of the wealth gap in America, and higher education must help to address this by providing individuals with the skills to overcome poverty.

Additionally, the American population is aging. Far fewer young people are projected to be born – leading to an enrollment cliff for higher education institutions in the U.S..

WICHE’s excellent report, Knocking at the College Door, is an outstanding analysis of these and other trends impacting higher education’s enrollment.

I urge you, if you have not yet, to go to the Knocking Report and explore your own state’s data in depth. As a nation though, what the report projects is a decline in enrollment.

State by State Enrollment Projections 2020-2037 according to Knocking 2020 Report, For Interactive Table visit:

This gives us a blunt picture of the future of the supply and demand in American higher education – but what of the supply chain we serve – that of employees for the American workforce. Employers are demanding more talented labor now – and will continue to do so into the future with an anticipated 8.3 million jobs being created by 2031.

This means, we in higher education must change – and we must do so quickly. Embracing new manufacturing technologies, new computing skills, and making changes in the ways that we educate individuals to better meet their needs and the needs of the employers we serve.

The Changes We Must Make

We Must Do What Is Hard

I recently evaluated grants for a nonprofit organization. The grants were for expansion and/or improvement of nursing programs at mostly community colleges across the country. The grantor was looking for “innovative” programs. To my great disappointment, the most innovative thing that any institution really presented in that grant program were part-time programs and evening/weekend programs.

Part-time and evening/weekend programs in nursing or other areas are certainly challenging; they are far from innovative.

We must move beyond saying something is hard or impossible. Instead, higher ed should begin by breaking down the challenge into individual parts. Next, we can figure out creative ways to overcome those  smaller challenges. Part-time and evening/weekend programs demand more of faculty and of our institutional partners and of institutional support services – and we must meet those demands.

We Must Do What Students Need

Our example from above  provides the framework for the next thing that higher education must do if we’re going to keep pace with the changes in the economy:we must do what students need us to do rather than what we want to do.

Part of why part-time and evening/weekend programs are necessary is that students need to be able to work, care for their families, and go to school all at the same time. We must make education fit into the lives of students.

A friend from California visited over the holidays. She explained that their enrollment at her college was up to pre-COVID levels when they left online classes on their schedule. But, according to her, in California online classes are reimbursed by the state at a lower rate than traditional classes and so administrators pulled online classes off the schedule to put on more traditional classes. They built it. But students didn’t come.

This leads to our third point of what we must do.

We Must Hold Accountable Those Who Hold Us Accountable

From accrediting agencies to state and federal governments, we in higher education must redouble our efforts to improve the quality of education while also improving its reach. Brookings told us in 2017 that access was no longer the problem – but completion was. I disagreed with that finding then and I disagree even more with it now. Both quality and access are problems of equal degrees and they must be worked on in tandem.

Photo of several young adults in a classroom
Photo by javier trueba on Unsplash

In higher education we often feel like we’re being held accountable by everyone and yet no one is accountable to us, except perhaps our students. However, in real accountability systems there are feedback loops that help to measure the quality of the accountability. Where these don’t exist today we must advocate for their inclusion and leave organizations that are no longer serving us or our students.

From accrediting organizations that say they will refuse to accredit programs with any fully online classes to legislators that believe it is in our best interest to go through the arduous and expensive process of changing accreditors every decade or so, we must provide accountability in new and better ways. Engage employer partners who indicate they won’t hire your graduates unless they have a specific accreditation and provide them data on how students do in follow up classes, even after taking a preceding class online. And, clean up your own house. If You find data that shows a lack of accountability on your part, do the work to redesign and improve that course. Help those employer partners leverage the accreditor on your behalf. And, no matter what you do, vote. Educate your students and encourage them to make educated voting decisions.

Continuing to Consider the Future

This was a broad look at what higher education needs to do in order to meet the demands of a growing and changing economy. Especially as more higher education enrollment comes from new and different sources, rather than the traditional high school population that has long been our lifeblood.

In the next blog post, I’m going to provide a more specific approach to partnership with businesses and industry to give you a framework for how this could happen at any institution. And, we’ll follow this up in this month’s Closer Conversation for WCET members as well as have a detailed guide in MIX for WCET Members. I’d love to know where you’ve tried and succeeded and where you’ve tried and failed in the comments or on Twitter at @KNMTweets.


Strategies for Success Through Digital Learning 2023

Professional development is a highly important factor to our success. This is why we are sharing information on Every Learner Everywhere’s upcoming series “Strategies for Success Through Digital Learning.” This program includes access to a community of practice.

Today, we’re joined by Every Learner Everywhere’s Manager of Network Programs and Services, Norma Hollebeke, who discusses the importance of professional development, rwith several opportunities for learning – webcasts, discussion, community of practice, etc.”

Enjoy the read and enjoy your day,

Lindsey Downs, WCET

Effective learning happens when educators responsible for learning come together to share their knowledge, ideas, and inquire into their practices. It is vital for educators (faculty, academic staff, and administrators) to embrace and actively partake in professional learning as part of their continuous improvement. Quality professional learning explores diverse topics, identifies good practices, and encourages educators to continuously improve for the good of their students. Every Learner strives to provide professional learning opportunities that are highly collaborative, engage in problem-solving and deeper learning, as well as professional growth.

Strategies for Success Through Equitable Teaching and Learning is an interactive professional development series for faculty, staff, and other higher education professionals invested in high-quality digital learning. Participants engage in weekly webinars presented by experts. Additionally, participants may also join a community of practice with their peers as an opportunity to enhance the learning experience. The community of practice is an optional activity with limited capacity and requires separate registration. Successful completion of the community of practice results in a digital micro-credential. Today, I wanted to share more information about each session as well as the community of practice.

image with details of the webinar sessions

Session Information

Beyond Inclusion: Teaching for civic engagement and participation

January 27, 2023 10:00am MT

Bryan Dewsbury

In this talk we will explore the ways in which we can reconnect our classroom practice with the values, behaviors and mindsets needed for a socially just society. We will draw on examples from history to make the case for a more explicit pedagogy, with examples from an introductory STEM course, demonstrating how these practices prepare students for all forms of social participation.

An Equity-First Approach to Postsecondary Digital Learning

February 3, 2023 12:00pm MT

Aireale J. Rodgers

As digital learning becomes an increasingly popular modality for teaching and learning, so too has the use of courseware in postsecondary institutions. Approaching the design and implementation of digital courseware from an explicitly equity-minded perspective is vital to supporting historically marginalized students. In this interactive webinar, we introduce the Equity First Framework for Digital Learning, a set of six considerations for courseware designers and instructors seeking to leverage courseware as a tool to support equitable and just student learning. Together, we will discuss tangible ways to apply the framework in your teaching practice.

Learning from Our Students: Student Perspectives on Good Teaching

February 10, 2023 12:00pm MT

Christine Latulippe

Through our actions and characteristics, college instructors have the power to improve students’ experiences in higher education, and who better than students to describe the ways instructors have “got it right” and made a difference in their lives? This presentation highlights key takeaways from the recent Every Learner Everywhere publication “What Our Best College Instructors Do”, including real student stories about good teaching organized around evidence-based teaching practices, and equity principles in higher education. Session participants will consider ways that this collection of student insights might be used to improve teaching, and also consider ways to solicit and utilize feedback from their own students. For anyone who’s ever wondered what students think about teaching and learning, this session will provide ideas to incorporate student voice into the continuous improvement of their craft as teachers.

Designing Online Learning as Intersectional, Entangled Commitments

February 17, 2023 12:00pm MT

 Xeturah Woodley and Mary Rice

This presentation will be an opportunity for participants to engage in conversations about the renewal that emerges alongside intersectional online course design. The presenters will interrogate existing notions of course design that create an unsustainable rivalry between teaching and learning.

By shifting our ways of knowing and being about online course design we are better able to create inclusive environments that simultaneously value the being and doing of learning and teaching.

Community of Practice – Strategies for Success Through Digital Learning

January 27-March 3, 2023

Educators who want to improve their teaching practices and enrich student learning experiences can benefit from working together, sharing practices, and exploring resources. This Community of Practice (CoP) will support instructors and other academic professionals by providing an intentional space for developing and extending the conversations beyond the weekly webinars.

Our goals for this community are:

  • To support educators who want to make their teaching more effective and improve student learning
  • To facilitate conversations that encourage transformation in the classroom that benefit Black, Latinx and Indigenous students, poverty-affected students, and first-generation students
  • To build a body of knowledge for community members to draw on and share with others

In support of these goals, participants will connect and learn in the following ways:

  • Engaging in a series of live sessions with national leaders in digital learning, evidence-based teaching, and equity
  • Connecting in asynchronous, peer-driven discussions supported by facilitators
  • Exploring a collection of curated and shared resources

Registration Information

  • Registration for the full Webinar Series: $100
  • Registration for a Single Webinar: $30
  • Registration for the Community of Practice: $50

Unable to join the webinar series live? Register for access to the recordings.

We encourage you to take advantage of this exclusive professional learning opportunity while seats are still available. Registration is now open.


What Faculty Designers Can Tell Us about Online Course Reviews

In 2019, I asked our readers the question “how do you ensure quality in online courses?” This question was part of my introduction to a fantastic article written by Aimee deNoyelles from the University of Central Florida. Aimee discussed UCF’s quality assurance program – an online course review process that acknowledges the achievement of quality online course design.

Well, after several years (including those disrupted by you know what) of implementing said course review process, Aimee joins us again today to give us an update on additional results of the course review process and discuss recommendations for improving the program based on recent faculty surveys and focus groups. Thank you to Aimee (and the team at UCF!) for your hard work supporting quality online learning and for sharing your journey with us here at Frontiers.

Enjoy the read,

Lindsey Downs, WCET

In a previous Frontiers post, I shared my university’s approach to promoting online course reviews to teaching faculty. Main recommendations included in that post were for online course reviewers to:

  1. engage in dialogue with the faculty designer;
  2. emphasize guiding philosophies of the course review process;
  3. amplify student and faculty voices; and,
  4. celebrate the successes.

Once reviewed, courses could potentially be designated as quality online courses, which highlights that the course meets certain characteristics and expectations.

Three unpredictable years have passed since that post was written. Since then, another 300+ course designations have been earned by nearly 300 faculty members. In addition to the basic online course designation (“Quality”) that was developed in 2017, an advanced designation called “High Quality” began being offered in 2018. Due to demand from faculty and the success with blended courses, courses offered in blended modalities became eligible for the “Quality” review in 2020, with the “High Quality” version following in 2021.

Having last gathered formal feedback from faculty in 2019, we thought it was high time to reengage in dialogue in 2021. Faculty who had ever earned a course designation were invited to complete surveys and participate in focus groups in order to better understand the dynamics of the online course review. Four themes emerged:

Theme 1 – Identifying the Motivations to Participate

blue and grey text box with quote: “Ultimately, this is about the success of your students.”

When asked about their motivations to participate in course reviews, the majority (74%) of survey respondents said the primary reason was “to improve the learning experiences for students.” All other reasons (“I wanted a digital badge to display,” “I enjoy working with my instructional designer,” “This supports my promotion and tenure”) were much lower (under 10%).

This supports one of the underlying guiding philosophies posed in my earlier blog post: “Ultimately, this is about the success of your students.” 90% agreed or strongly agreed that the course review process improved the design of the course. Some respondents mentioned these specific improvements:

  • Better course organization,
  • Ease of use and improved accessibility, and
  • Increased student performance.

Theme 2 – Articulating the Nature and Evolution of the Reviews

The review items address effective online course design rather than teaching. Understanding the nature of the review remained a challenge for faculty participants. As one respondent declared in the survey, “Quality can’t be done in a checklist – it’s the knowledge of the instructor and the skill working with students.” Faculty in the focus group were asked to interpret this declaration. This led to a discussion about how faculty saw the items in the review (the “checklist”) as a means to set up the conditions for a quality online learning experience, with the role of the instructor crucial in actually bringing it to fruition.

Survey respondents were asked how well they understood aspects of the review process. Some aspects were not as understood as well as we would have hoped, namely “when the designation expires,” “what course modalities are eligible for a review,” and “how a High Quality designation is achieved.” In hindsight, this should not have been a surprise, since all three of those items have either been updated or introduced since the inception of the review process in 2017.

Theme 3 – Clarifying Faculty and Reviewer Roles

One of the guiding philosophies of the course review process is the engagement in a collaborative review with the course reviewer, which is typically an instructional designer (ID). The relationship with the ID was positively regarded. 94% of survey respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the collaboration helped to generate strategies to improve course design.

A concern, however, was when an ID would recommend course revisions that the faculty did not personally agree with. As one faculty noted in the focus group, “I did things my ID told me to do to get the badge even though I didn’t really want to….” Another faculty member suggested reframing the initial dialogue from the ID; she wanted to hear, “tell me what you’re trying to achieve,” rather than “here’s what to do earn the designation.” 

Theme 4 – Notifying the Student

During the focus group sessions, questions about student understanding of the course designation organically emerged. Questions included, “How do students know about it?”, “Can they see it when they sign up for the course?”, “How do they know to click on the badge?”, “How many students have clicked on the badge?” One faculty member lamented, “No students ask me about it.”

What’s Next?

Deeply listening to faculty members about the course review process is critical to the continued success of this evolving initiative. Based on their feedback, we developed the following key recommendations:

  • Explicitly relate faculty motivations to participate with the cited benefits of engaging in a review. We learned that faculty were engaging in the review to improve learning for students, therefore this is a relatable way to frame the reviews to people who are reluctant. To encourage faculty not yet participating, publicize the proven benefits; for instance, our course review home page shares direct quotes from participating faculty about improvements in course organization, accessibility, and student performance.
Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash
  • Clearly articulate the intention of the reviews to all parties involved: faculty, course reviewers, and students. Acknowledge that “quality can’t be [fully] done in a checklist” – that the faculty member is the expert and facilitation is important; however, these items have been proven to help design the initial foundation. This will require modifications to our website and training.
  • Clarify the aspects that are not well understood. Talking with faculty allowed us to understand the aspects of the process that were not well understood such as when the designation expires, what modalities were eligible, and how High Quality was achieved – all opportunities to strengthen the communication regarding the program. Modifications to the website and training are needed.
  • Emphasize the collaborative element of the review process. Positive feedback was given with regards to working with an instructional designer. We think that has a lot to do with the guiding philosophy of the review, and the front-end quality approach of pairing with instructional designers throughout the process. However, with instructional designers joining the team since the inception of the review process, along with growing workloads, it seems an appropriate time to reengage in dialogue about the balanced nature of “collaboration.”
  • Involve students more actively. In the previous blog post, one of the recommendations concerning promoting online course reviews was to amplify student voices. In several cases, students have been surveyed to provide their feedback about the course design before the review takes place, offering a “pre” and “post” comparison of sorts. Frankly, this has not happened as much as we would have liked. One effort to make students more aware of the designation came from a faculty member – he let us use his course announcement that describes the nature of the designation.

As  discussed in my first post, quality can be a tense topic for many in the online education realm. However, by taking the time to listen to those most involved in course development and creation, we can, ultimately, ensure the success of our program, our faculty, and, most importantly, our students.


Is AI the New Homework Machine? Understanding AI and Its Impact on Higher Education

By now you’ve likely seen the hubbub over ChatGPT, OpenAI’s new chat bot trained on their large language model AI GPT 3.5. Some of the more provocative announcements about the impact of artificial intelligence include:

The focus of much of this discussion about AI has been on academic integrity, specifically academic dishonesty. But bigger issues—digital literacy, pedagogical practices, equity—are also at play.

article overview with sections: 

Introduction to WCET AI Work
OpenAI's Chat GPT
Some Poetry about a Cat
Impact to Higher Education
What YOU Can do Now
Concluding Thoughts ON Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine

In 2023, WCET will look at Artificial Intelligence (AI) and provide support and resources to help you break through the rhetoric and understand both the promises and perils of AI in higher education.

To begin, this introductory blog post will focus on an overview of large language model AIs and their potential impact on higher education.

In coming months, we will do a number of deeper dives on AI and higher education including a Frontiers Podcast episode, a February brief that explores selected AI tools, several blog posts on AI’s impact on pedagogical practices, what a new digital literacy in the age of AI might look like, and the equity implications of large language model AI, as well as a summer white paper that will do a deeper dive on the pedagogical and policy implications of AI.

A Quick Primer and Glossary on Large Language Model Artificial Intelligence

Before we delve into the impact of AI on higher education, it’s worth taking a few minutes to consider artificial intelligence and its most recent manifestations.


Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Artificial Intelligence (AI): Stanford University’s Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence group defines artificial intelligence as “a term coined by emeritus Stanford Professor John McCarthy in 1955, was defined by him as ‘the science and engineering of making intelligent machines.’ Much research has humans program machines to behave in a clever way, like playing chess, but, today, we emphasize machines that can learn, at least somewhat like human beings do.”

Machine learning: Machine learning was defined by AI pioneer Arthur Samuel in the 1950s as “the field of study that gives computers the ability to learn without explicitly being programmed.” Often times this now happens via neural networks.

Neural networks and deep learning: Neural networks are, simply put, computer networks that are built in such a way as to mimic the human brain with each node leading to other nodes, much as the brain is a complex collection of networked neurons. Neural networks lead to deep learning which allows the computer to learn from large amounts of data in a way that “creates an adaptive system that computers use to learn from their mistakes and improve continuously.”

Large language model (LLM): A language model trained on an enormous amount of text so that it is capable of predicting a given sequence of words. This capability allows the model to “understand” inquiries and replicate human language in a largely coherent way.

Much of the recent discussion is around large language model AI. This type of AI relies on a neural net to look for and find patterns in a massive amount of data. The larger the neural network, i.e., the number of nodes, the larger the data input can be, and, in theory, the more capability the AI has to interact with humans. Much large language model AI, such as OpenAI’s (a research and development company) ChatGPT, relies on large neural networks which allow the AI to continuously learn from its interactions with humans and improve its responses.

The Buzziest LLM AI Right Now: OpenAI’s ChatGPT and GPT 3.5

Last month OpenAI released ChatGPT, a chat interface for its GPT 3.5 large language model AI. Using the chat interface, users can make a seemingly endless array of queries of GPT 3.5 that result in often stunning responses. For example, when provided with a prompt to explain how the ChatGPT works, the program responded:

ChatGPT is a large language model that is trained to generate human-like text. It does this by being fed vast amounts of text data, which it uses to learn the patterns and structures of language. To generate text, ChatGPT uses a type of artificial intelligence called a transformer, which allows it to process language more efficiently and effectively. It also utilizes a technique called self-attention, which enables it to consider the relationships between words in a sentence and the context in which they are used. When given a prompt, ChatGPT uses all of this information to generate a response that is coherent and resembles natural language.

And when asked to write a poem in the style of iambic pentameter on the superiority of cats, the program responded:

In iambic pentameter, the most common type of meter in English poetry, each line contains ten syllables and has a regular pattern of unstressed and stressed syllables. The pattern is typically written as “da-DUM” and can be thought of as the beat of the poem. Here is a short poem about the superiority of cats written in iambic pentameter:

With grace and stealth they prowl the night

Unseen, until they choose to strike

Their sharpened claws and piercing eyes

A hunter's soul within their guise

Superior, sleek, and oh so wise

The feline reigns, the ruler of all

In every home, they rule the hall

And all who dare defy their might

Shall feel the wrath of feline fright

For cats are king, and dogs must bow

To their majestic, feline pow'r

Long live the cats, in all their glory

Their reign will never, ever be over.

And, finally, when asked to write a college application essay on one’s experiences of working in a soup kitchen which includes reflecting on what you learned and including an interaction with a small child, ChatGPT, in a matter of seconds, responded with a coherent, personalized, five paragraph essay. I fully believe that the fact that the essay was written by AI and not a live person would be undetectable for many college admissions committees.

Why, as a society, should we care about the release of ChatGPT? Very simply put, the release of ChatGPT and the development of other large language model AIs is a seminal moment in human history. The moment is akin to probably the single most important historical technological development—the creation of the movable type printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in the early 15th century. Just as the printing press changed our relationship with information by making it available to a wider audience, large language model AI is changing our relationship with information by blurring the lines between human and machine. It forces us to reconsider what is distinctly human about intelligence if a machine can generate human language complete with analysis.

What Does All of This Mean for Higher Education?

It is clear that the development of large language model AI, and its growing availability to a more general audience, could significantly change higher education. It will call into question the ways in which we have used writing as, as Daniel Herman puts it, “a benchmark for aptitude and intelligence.” Generative LLM will force us to think about what we assess and how we assess it, shifting a reliance on writing to more creative assessments that require students to demonstrate application of knowledge rather than simply the ability to produce information.

Photo by Headway on Unsplash

Higher education is being called upon to rethink what we assess and why we assess it. We are being called upon to rethink the relationship between information, knowledge, and wisdom. When an AI can create passable prose with accurate information (something that ChatGPT and other LLM Ais still cannot yet do consistently), is it enough to ask our students to “prove” that they know the information? Or does our assessment shift to asking students to apply information, demonstrating knowledge of the subject at hand?

Higher education must rethink digital literacy and how we prepare our students for this new world of large language model AI. As we move closer to a world of hybrid work where more and more jobs involve the use of generative AI for everything from discovering new drug molecules to developing ad copy, we will need to help our students understand how to partner with AI. How do they craft a request? How do they evaluate the results of the AI? How can they leverage AI to more deeply understand the world around them? This is a new digital literacy and it goes beyond the use of statistical software application or how to craft a Google search request.

What You Can Do Right Now

In September of last year, before the release of ChatGPT, Jeff Schatten wrote in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “It won’t be long before GPT-3, and the inevitable copycats, infiltrate the university. The technology is just too good and too cheap not to make its way into the hands of students who would prefer not to spend an evening perfecting the essay I routinely assign on the leadership style of Elon Musk.”

That time, that technology—it’s here, and higher education must decide how to respond.

In coming months we’ll do a much deeper dive on how you can respond to large language model AI but, in the interim, we would urge you to take the steps that John Warner suggests in his recent Inside Higher Ed blog, “Freaking Out About ChatGPT—Part I.”

  • Give students learning experiences that they are interested in and value so they are less inclined to use AI as a way for “doing an end run.”
  • Move away from using a single artifact, like a single exam or essay, as a measure of learning. Instead, create assessments that “take into consideration the processes and experiences of learning.”
  • Ask students to engage in metacognitive reflection that has them articulate what they have learned, how they have learned it, and why the knowledge is valuable.
  • Create assignments that require students to synthesize what they have learned and bring their own perspectives the subject.
  • And, finally, create assignments that integrate the technology into learning.

We also need to begin thinking about how we define academic integrity in this new age of ChatGPT and other large language model AIs. This should lead to deeper conversations with our students about academic integrity.

As Melinda Zook, a Purdue history professor puts it, “The fact is the professoriate cannot teach the way we used to. Today’s students have to take ownership over every step of the learning experience. No more traditional five paragraph essays, no more ‘read the book and write about it.” We must radically rethink our pedagogical practices for the 21st century.

In Conclusion: Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine

In 1958, Jay Williams and Raymond Abrashkin published Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine, a children’s book about three junior high schoolers who decide to use a computer prototype to do their homework for them. When their teacher discovers their ruse and confronts Danny, he passionately defends their decision to program the computer with all of the information in their textbooks and use it to produce their homework exclaiming,

“It’s just another tool. Lots of kids do their homework on typewriters. In high school and college they teach kids to do some of their homework on slide rules. And scientists use all kinds of computers as tools for their work. So why pick on us? We’re just…just going along with the times.”

Junior high school hijinks ensue, including the sabotage of the computer by a jealous classmate and Danny heroically discovering and fixing it just as a representative from the federal government is about to leave in disgust. And, in the end, Danny and his friends recognize that in programming the computer to do their homework they have, in reality, been learning and doing their homework leading Danny to resolve not to use the computer to do their homework anymore. However, he does close the story by wondering about what a teaching machine would look like.

Reading Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine in light of ChatGPT was eerie. The story (written when Dwight Eisenhower was President) reflects current discussions about the ethics of students leveraging the latest AI innovations, especially ChatGPT and GPT 3.5.

  • What is the purpose of homework?
  • What types of assistance should students be allowed to use?
  • What is academic integrity and how does AI fit in to discussions about it?
  • Are there ways for students to use AI that do not compromise academic integrity?
  • What does it mean to learn?
  • And, finally, what is the role of the teacher in this new age of AI?

In the coming months, we’ll explore these larger issues around AI and higher education. Meanwhile, we would love to hear your thoughts on ChatGPT and other AI tools and their impact on higher education. You can send any thoughts or questions to Van Davis at


2022 SANsational Award Winners Present Promising Compliance Solutions

Three postsecondary institutions each earned a 2022 SANsational Award for the creation of innovative processes and structures to manage state and federal regulatory compliance for out-of-state activities of the postsecondary institution.

SANsational award logo

Since 2015, the State Authorization Network (SAN), a division of WCET, has awarded SANsational Awards annually to SAN members who self-nominated their work in the development of practices, processes, and polices to manage state authorization compliance. Over these years, it has become clear that institutions are very innovative and have carefully considered processes to manage compliance that provide important consumer protections for students.

With the increased development of distance education opportunities for students, we see that compliance requirements addressing these opportunities is an ever-changing landscape. Institutions earning SANsational Awards have learned to create processes that in many cases can be adapted to changing state and federal regulatory requirements and include collaboration from institution key stakeholders.

SANsational Award Process

Annually, SAN offers members the opportunity to submit a self-nomination form that describes the solution they intend to address. The form is reviewed by an Awards Committee made up of respected compliance professionals. The committee evaluates the submissions in four areas:

  1. that the solution meets requirements and needs of state and/or federal regulations, SARA policy, the institution, and students.
  2. that the submission demonstrates a clear, comprehensive, and practical solution to meet compliance requirements.
  3. the project exhibits capability to be adapted or replicated as a model for others.
  4. the project addresses the specific focus of the category chosen. Candidates should carefully choose the category for which they submit their self-nomination.

In 2022, nominations were accepted in the following three categories:

  • Licensure Programs: Notifications and disclosures for professional licensure program status in each state.
  • Location: How the institution identifies where their students are located while taking online courses, doing internships/practicums etc., and to meet Federal regulations (34 CFR 600.9(c)(iii) & 34 CFR 668.43(c))? How does the institution report this information?
  • Compliance Innovations: Institution policy, tools, compliance teams, or other inventive or novel compliance management practices.

Congratulations to the 2022 SANsational Award Winners!

Institution staff members often request that SAN provide names of institutions that are doing good work to manage compliance. The winners this year and the seven preceding years of SANsational Award winners have developed high quality, comprehensive solutions to state authorization issues that are scalable and practical. All of the 2022 SANsational Award Winners were in the Compliance Innovations category.

SAN is delighted to congratulate the following 2022 SANsational Award winners:

Text on decorative graphic reads 
"Congratulations to the 2022 SANSational Award Winners. 
Campbell University (NC)
Utilizing Accreditation Documentation to Demonstrate Compliance with C-RAC Guidelines 
University of Cincinnati (OH)
State Authorization Working Group (SAWG) 
Utah Tech University (UT)
Implementing a professional licensure database for automatic individual disclosures
With Sansational logo.

Campbell University (NC)

Utilizing Accreditation Documentation to Demonstrate Compliance with C-RAC Guidelines 

The main campus of Campbell University is located in Buies Creek, North Carolina, about 35 miles south of the state capital in Raleigh. Offsite instructional locations can be found serving Fort Bragg, Pope Army Airfield, and Camp Lejeune, in addition to their online presence. The university is a private, non-profit, liberal arts institution that offers undergraduate and graduate and professional degrees, including medicine, pharmacy, physical therapy, physician assistant, and law.

six individuals pose with an award plaque
Members of the Campbell University team with SAN team members

Campbell University won a 2022 SANsational Award in the Compliance Innovations category for the development of an institutional process to efficiently manage compliance with accreditor quality standards and aspects of the C-RAC Guidelines for participation in reciprocity through the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements, (SARA). This project, titled Utilizing Accreditation Documentation to Demonstrate Compliance with C-RAC Guidelines, focuses on the utilization of a crosswalk of compliance requirements, but also demonstrates a successful development of collaboration and communication with key stakeholders at the university.

Upon the realization that there was an overlap of standards for the institutional accreditor, SACSCOC, and to abide by the C-RAC Guidelines, it was determined that a collaboration between multiple offices at the university would provide more efficient compliance management. An electronic application evidence folder was developed to include an already created evidence repository for accreditation standards that helped to develop the repository for C-RAC Guidelines which for some requirements included the same evidence as for the accreditors.

Bill Hall, Director of Institutional Research and State Authorization at Campbell University shared…

At first glance, evidence requirements to demonstrate compliance with the C-RAC Guidelines can be overwhelming, especially if someone is not familiar with academic assessment and accreditation. Had it not been for the organizational structure of my office, I would not have known to reach out to personnel who handle accreditation, which ended up being a direct, readily accessible source for much of the C-RAC compliance evidence. Campbell’s project not only shows that compiling evidence of compliance proved to be a much easier task thanks to reliance on information previously supplied to our regional accreditor, but our compliance innovation project also underscores the importance of State Authorization personnel to reach out across their institution to build relationships with other offices.”

The communication among offices began with the Director of Institutional Research and State Authorization sharing with the Office of Institutional Effectiveness staff about the overlap of requirements which was then shared with the Director of University Assessment. Development interaction includes the Office of Institutional Effectiveness at Campbell University, with some communication to the Adult and Online Education division, as well as to the Office of the Provost. The evidence repository was also shared with General Counsel who reviews materials for the annual SARA renewals prior to affirmation and signature by the President.

Campbell University proceeded through the stakeholder channels to develop a plan to utilize common review and processes, that is cost-effective, seamless, and an adaptable tool which could be utilized year to year, and by peer institutions nationally.

University of Cincinnati (OH)

State Authorization Working Group (SAWG) 

The University of Cincinnati (UC) is a public research institution in Ohio. Founded in 1819, UC has an annual enrollment of more than 47,000 students including undergraduates, graduate, and professional students. The UC website shares that the institution has been ranked number 4 in the nation for internships and co-ops. UC has offered online programs for more than 20 years. In 2018, UC established UC Online to enhance and develop online programs.

UC won a 2022 SANsational Award in the Compliance Innovations category for the creation of a cross institutional working group for which they call the State Authorization Working Group (SAWG). UC Online accepted the responsibility of organizing their institution’s state authorization compliance without additional staff but is accomplished through buy in to develop the collaborative working group of staff from across the institution.

The State Authorization Working Group from UC with several members of the SAN team, posing in front of the UC Bearcat mascot statue
The State Authorization Working Group from UC with several members of the SAN team

Dawn Clineman, Assistant Vice Provost/Online Instruction, State Authorization Liaison; University of Cincinnati Online shared:

UC’s State Authorization Working Group (SAWG) has made it possible for a small team to manage the compliance efforts on campus. Many hands make light work is our primary goal and with this sentiment, we receive commitment from the group.”

The working group consists of a representative from each of UC’s 13 colleges and the Institutional Research team. SAWG acts as the primary source where data and reporting information is validated and collected. UC online acts as the coordinator for the workgroup whose primary responsibility is to gather needed documentation to address out-of-state learning placements. This is a large undertaking considering the importance that the university places to encourage students to participate in internships and co-ops. Related to the learning placements, the workgroup provides the necessary information about the programs that lead to a professional license or certification.

The effort to create this workgroup serves to show that a small central staff can take on such a large project by sharing the responsibilities across units of the university. They shared that the data integrity provided is more reliable because the data is being pulled by individuals that have more direct knowledge of the programs and the students.

We applaud University of Cincinnati’s plan to incorporate key stakeholders to pool information from their areas of expertise to make a more efficient process for compliance. This working group provides a cost-effective, pathway to compliance that can be adapted by peer institutions nationally to manage out-of-state activity compliance.

Utah Tech University (UT)

Project Title – Implementing a Professional Licensure Database for Automatic Individual Disclosures

Located in St. George, Utah, Utah Tech University (UT), is a premier open-enrollment public institution with an enrollment of more than 12,000 students. UT offers 200 academic programs for what is described by UT as one of the lowest tuition costs in the Western United States. The institution underwent a branding change in Summer 2022 having been formerly known as Dixie State University.

Utah Tech won a 2022 SANsational Award in the Compliance Innovations category for developing a process to automate the preparation and distribution of individual notifications for programs leading to a license or certification as required by Federal regulations. The project is entitled, Implementing a Professional Licensure Database for Automatic Individual Disclosures.

Photo of UT team members with award plaque and Cheryl Dowd, SAN
UT team members and Cheryl Dowd, SAN

Federal regulations requiring public and individualized notifications for programs leading to a license or certification became effective July 1, 2020. UT candidly shared that prior to the development of this project, the institution was not in compliance with Federal regulations. However, when the institution recognized this deficiency, they created a State Authorization and Licensure Coordinator position. This new staff member was hired to organize the institution’s compliance efforts and develop a process to efficiently manage requirements related to the university’s thirty-five programs leading to a license.

UT credits colleague Sherri Melton, at fellow institution Weber State University, for the initial development of a database framework that UT adapted to their institution. UT uses Ellucian Banner, the student information system, to create a professional licensure table. This database is described as “listening” to determine if a notification is needed per one of four triggers that cause an email to be automatically generated and sent to a student. The four triggers are: start of the semester (fall and spring), a student enters into a professional licensure program of study via Banner, a change in the student’s location, and a change in the determination status for their program of study and state.

The development of the tool required several important steps in collaboration with institutional stakeholders. The steps began with the identification of applicable programs and the determination of status of the institution curriculum relative to the state educational requirements in each state. This was accomplished by working with program directors. Other key stakeholders in the development of the project include enrollment management, general counsel, academic advising, the registrar, and information technology services.

According to Mark Adkins, Utah Tech State Authorization and Professional Licensure Coordinator,

“The database ensures the student receives timely and accurate professional licensure information about the state they are located in, while reducing the workload of the program directors saving hundreds of hours each year. The database is flexible and scalable to meet new and changing requirements.”

Since the launch of the database in January 2022, UT shared that 2,000+ emails have been automatically generated by the database to support the 35 professional licensure programs at Utah Tech. This database project provides a cost-effective, adaptable tool by utilizing an existing resource at the institution to manage distributions of required notifications and can be adapted by peer institutions nationally.

Learn more about the SAN Winners!

Congratulations, SANsational Award Winners! We are proud of you and grateful for your willingness to share your good work to develop dynamic new practices to address compliance management! The SAN Team was very pleased to visit each of these institutions to present their SANsational award in person to share the celebration with their institution colleagues.

You can learn more about these award winning projects on the SANsational Webpage on the SAN website. In addition to the 2022 Press Release providing a short summery of the projects, you will also find recorded presentations that are each approximately 20 minutes in length. The winners share in more detail their process, challenges, and outcomes of their projects.

We are grateful to our 2022 Awards Committee:

  • Sharyl Thompson,
  • Jeannie Yockey-Fine,
  • Brandie Elliott, and
  • LaDonna Rodvold,

who carefully reviewed and considered each award nomination.

The 2023 award selection process will begin in the summer.

For more information about the activities, events, and resources provided by the State Authorization Network (SAN), please visit the SAN Website or contact the SAN team at


A Transformative Journey – Using Digital Tools in Higher Education

Today WCET Frontiers welcomes Shani Suber, Dean of E-learning Effectiveness and Enhancement with Dallas College and member of the WCET Steering Committee! Shani joins us to talk about her transformative journey using digital learning tools to better help students achieve their educational goals. I enjoyed learning about her experiences and more about this college. I hope you enjoy as well!

Lindsey Downs, WCET

Today, I’m excited to discuss how Dallas College uses digital tools and materials to engage with our students and help them reach their educational goals.

About Dallas College

Dallas College logo over a map of the college area in Texas

Dallas College has served and educated more than 3 million students. As one of the largest colleges in Texas, our courses include 83,000 credit and 25,000 continuing education students.

Chart on dallas college diversity-

37% hispanic, 25% black, 25% white, 8% asian, other 5%

Dallas College has a diverse student population, necessitating a variety of teaching techniques and technology options for serving different groups of students.

Let’s look at some of the learners we serve digital tools we use.

Chart about education for all>

At dallas college they have variety of students in different generations. Gen z, 54400, Millenials, 68,500, Gen x 22, 477, baby boomer 464, mature 573.
Chart with information on early college pathways at Dallas College.

29000 early college pathway students, 20% of total enrollment.

2000 credentials awarded to dual credit students in 2020.

72% completion rate of seniors in early college pathways

15982 approx students enrolled in HE from four dallas college cohorts

Moving Learning Materials Online

The journey and evolution of moving digital learning materials online at Dallas College coincided with changes in my own teaching experiences. I vividly remember starting out as a teacher having my syllabus, book, chalkboard, and my students in face-to-face classrooms. The idea of expanding dial up internet services and using learning materials in a digital space using handheld devices was just a hazy concept. Over time, my instruction, content delivery, and engagement with my students evolved as I incorporated digital tools. My focus has always been determining student needs throughout the class, and considering the purpose of digital tools. What did I want to offer? What challenges did we need to resolve? How could I maintain or even increase student engagement?

Now, at the beginning of the semester, I start by reviewing rosters online and emailing students who had previously withdrawn from a similar course, were repeating the course, or had failed the course. I ask students how can I best support them and their second attempt at the course? Next, I use digital tools to improve communication about students’ progress throughout the semester. I use a Mid Semester Reflection Assignment via the LMS where students acknowledge their current grade, consider what led to that grade, identify what assignments remain, and set goals the remainder of the course. I provide a grading communication form digitally and share to students every 2 weeks in a 16 week course and weekly in summer/8 week courses. Students specify questions about grades through this form, which decreases the questions and concerns by the end of the semester. Just these three activities improved student connection and understanding in their courses.

Why is this important? Our students! Our students are the central driving factor behind our exploration of academics and technology. The ability to commute to and from a campus, conferences, and face-to-face courses serve our students; however, the increase of students seeking multiple modalities of online learning has encouraged many institutions to provide numerous avenues of learning and student support. The reality of our modern society includes competing schedule demands that require a closer look at personal, educational, and professional growth while seeking school/work life balance. Allowing for multi-modality access to teaching and learning opportunities is important to help all of us balance these competing responsibilities.

Academics Meets Technology

Now, let’s venture on a journey many educators may have experienced. Exploring the use of digital resources and tools is part of professional growth and discovery.

a young person reading from a tablet
Image by Juraj Varga from Pixabay

Part of my exploration now is considering how to use digital tools to enable seamless delivery of content to ensure student progress and success in courses. Instructors can use digital tools to assist with:

  • sharing their knowledge of course content each semester,
  • connect to the course material,
  • engage with students,
  • and create summative or formative assessments to measure Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) for programs, departments, and entire institutions.

The connection between quality academics and innovative technology tools continues to be a topic of discussion and learning opportunity for many instructors.

Students’ Journey at Higher Education Institutions

Emerging technology has also transformed the lives of students. Students’ time will continue to be challenged by competing personal and professional responsibilities. Luckily, as we discussed, our instructors are using a variety of digital tools to connect with students, such as video conferencing. There is an increasing desire by students to access course content using any type of device, which also means that we must offer scalable content that is device agnostic.

Educators must now master their course content and master technology to best serve our leaners. Educators’ learning bag of tools must go above and beyond what was once innovative. We must integrate smartphones, tablets, and laptops. Technology savvy students are entering the classroom with devices in hand and years of technology use. But we also have students that are not as well versed with technology. Instructors must balance supporting the tech skilled students and those who need more assistance, plus maintain the focus on knowledge, exploration of content, and assessment.

Instructional Technologies and Vendor Partnerships

handdrawn checklist
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Different tools and resources have been acquired at different times based on needs in one department or program. Over time, the collection of software and vendor collaborations have multiplied and often duplicated efforts across the institution. How do we decrease duplicative purchases and effort?

Take a pause. Review the educational tools and technologies at your institution. Connect with stakeholders across your campus, including student services/success, information technology, online learning, areas supporting teaching professional development and support, etc. This collaborative group can review and assess what resources are already in use at the institution, such as websites, software licenses, and online resources used for teaching and learning. Suggested process:

  1. Research the existing technologies at your campus(es),
  2. Inventory the various technologies and their use, and cross reference duplicates/purpose,
  3. Review effort and impact of technologies. Note how many people are utilizing the resources, cost of the resource, and any duplication that may exist.

Always Consider Accessibility

Dallas College as an institution continues to prioritize students’ accessibility. Collegewide, they implemented a review of digital educational tools and technology, and it was a huge lift. At the beginning of the process, we created a Notice of Online Accessibility to establish a common goal and mission for selecting digital tools at the college. We created the Accessibility Policy and Regulation, which included common definitions for accessibility standards. Using the W3C best practices for web standards, we created an accessibility checklist (download a copy). All employees completed accessibility training over the course of a year.

There are digital tools used to assist instructors with closed captioned videos, video quizzes, online conferencing, all compatible with tablets and mobile phones. The Dallas College app is available to over 80,000 students across the college integrates the LMS to support students’ access to their course materials. District stakeholders and technology committees review the growth of educational technology and best practices to serve campus and online students. The college established a dedicated resources for employees to Request accessible content from publishers and vendors, including the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) based on the collegewide accessibility checklist and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. Once the VPAT is submitted to the college for new or renewal of contracts for educational tools, and IT completes the risk assessment of the tool, then the tool is reviewed, and the committees make a recommendation regarding purchase or renewal.

As new edtech tools emerge, experienced and new educators are challenged to rethink are challenged to rethink content delivery, assessment, learning styles, accessibility needs, and varying ways students demonstrate understanding of new knowledge. It’s exciting to consider how emerging opportunities will continue to grow the educational industry.

Dallas College and Student Involvement

The use of digital educational tools for teaching and learning will always be transformational; therefore, the User Experience or UX Design industry is soaring. This industry will hopefully be helpful as we attempt to meet and engage the variety of device users in an accessible way. To ensure that we are meeting student’s needs, Dallas College connects with students across the institution to delve into their educational experiences, thoughts, and feedback.

The Dallas College Office of E-learning comprises several areas:

  • Our Digital Solutions team creates internal digital content for and across the college including video production, graphics, video sharing software, and hosting a variety of accessible online learning videos through a digital asset collection. They also identify and create digital solutions throughout the college’s operational areas. This area partners with faculty teaching the Video Technology program to connect students to E-learning internship opportunities. Students can connect with staff in Digital Solutions as interns and gain relevant experience plus ensures we include the student voice in the content produced and shared inside the college.
  • In Effectiveness and Enhancement, the college partners with local 4-year universities that offer graduate programs in leadership, online learning, instructional design, or curriculum and instruction. This internship connects graduate students with a variety of experiences in online leadership, curriculum and content design, and more. Throughout the semester, students are an integral part of digital communication strategies and innovation.
  • The Marketing group creates and provides content external to the college for new and current students focusing on digital experience. This team has partnered with our Student Success operational area to gather student feedback on digital tools used at the college. A group of students have volunteered to be engaged in a variety of projects serving students. A great example of additional outreach includes setting up stations across the colleges to engage with students across each of our campuses. Staff set up laptops with websites and other digital tools for students to explore. This fosters productive feedback and dialogue with staff that are designing for students to be calibrated with students’ needs and use of the college’s resources.
  • Our Information Technology group has recently developed a Digital Engagement and Transformation team. Our students will connect with this team to test the new learning management system and provide input as they develop student resources and support.

At Dallas College, our focus is the accessibility of our digital tools and ensuring that these tools provide the best student experience. Student access to learn at our institution and gain professional experience while completing their programs has been an area of development and continues to grow. It’s also important to continue to add the student voice in the delivery of digital tools students use each day. We must continue to stay connected to the educational needs of our current students and meet the needs of the future ones as well.

WCET supports efforts to collaborate, share in discussions, and give space to online learning trends and updates. I’d like to invite you to join me and my fellow WCET community members as we grow our understanding of how to best use digital tools to support our student’s success.


Public Opportunity to Participate in SARA Reciprocity Policy Modifications

A new SARA (State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements) Policy Modification Process was approved by its oversight Board last summer. This new process will offer increased transparency and public participation in the development of SARA Policy additions and revisions to manage reciprocity for state approval of institutions offering distance education and select in-person activities across state lines.

We spoke with three members of the team that created the policy modification process.  Each of these members communicated that the new policy increases transparency and engagement with everyone touched by reciprocity through SARA. In this post, we enthusiastically share this new process, its structure, and some specific directions for the public to be involved in the process.

Three Things You Need to Know Today:

  1. Reciprocity provides consistent student consumer protections for interstate distance education in all states that are members to the reciprocity agreement known as SARA.
  2. Public opportunity to participate in SARA policy modifications is through submission of proposals to modify policy and by providing public comment to the submitted proposals.
  3. Those interested in participation should carefully review and follow process steps and designated deadlines as found on the NC-SARA website:  Overview of the SARA Policy Modification Process and 2023 Calendar.

Background on SARA and Its Policies

Beginning in 2014, states voluntarily began to join a state-to-state reciprocity agreement to address state authorization of institutions offering interstate distance education. SARA, as we now know the agreement, was developed to provide consistent state oversight of institutions by all member states. There is great concern regarding the wide variance of state-to-state requirements for institutional oversight nationwide that provides unbalanced consumer protection of students across the states. The SARA Agreement is a “negotiated compromise” of each state’s requirements for purposes of interstate distance education for postsecondary institutions.

colorful graphic of the United States

Eight years later, forty-nine states, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, and District of Columbia have joined the reciprocity agreement. More than 2,300 institutions in those states and territories have obtained approval from their “Home State” to participate in reciprocity to obtain state institutional authorization to offer distance education related activities in other SARA states. However, despite the wide acceptance of SARA nationally, there remains confusion about some SARA requirements.

Additionally, some states and consumer protection advocates have shared an interest in enriched consumer protections which may be accomplished through revision in SARA policy. We anticipate that the new SARA Policy Modification Process will serve to alleviate confusion, clarify the role of the state, and provide increased student consumer protection.

“The new SARA policy modification process is intended to advance the purposes of state authorization and contribute to the success of students enrolled in programs covered under SARA. The process was designed to be as transparent and collaborative as possible and to give everyone who cares about these purposes the opportunity to meaningfully engage and contribute to them.”

– Sam Loftin, Director of Consumer Protection, Washington Student Achievement Council

SARA Policy Modification Process Development

Beginning January 2023, there will be increased opportunity for the public voice to be heard to improve upon SARA Policy to implement reciprocity. Not only will the public have the opportunity to submit proposals, but there will also be opportunity to provide public comments that will be made publicly available. This process offers the ability to enrich student consumer protections and clarify institution and state responsibilities.

As previously discussed, institution compliance requirements and the roles of all SARA stakeholders are provided in SARA Policy. Since the origination of SARA Policy, there has been a process for policy modification to address any changing needs of SARA stakeholders and to allow for the maturity of the reciprocity agreement. However, there had been some frustration with details within that process.

As a result, in the last year and a half, a collaborative group of representatives from each compact’s Regional Steering Committee developed a new proposed policy modification process. The process is intended to be more inclusive of the public, institutions, states, and regional compacts as well as provide transparency and open communication among all SARA stakeholders. By following the former policy to address modifications, the NC-SARA Board approved the new SARA Policy Modification Process in June 2022. The language can be found in the SARA Policy Manual  Section 8.2: SARA Policy Modification Process.

The SARA policy modification process has been enhanced to prioritize member state voice, broad opportunity for input and feedback, transparency in developments throughout, and ultimately an annual pathway for thoughtful and consensus-based modifications to be achieved. SARA provides opportunities and options for students across the country, and the work continues every day to strengthen and enhance this impactful national network. 

– Jared Abdirkin, Director, State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (SARA) New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE)

Modification Process

The policy review cycle will begin each January and will conclude with a final vote by the NC-SARA Board at the Fall NC-SARA Board meeting. The NC-SARA website will house the information for submission and review of proposal starting with the SARA Policy webpage.

Key process points and deadlines associated with the policy modification process are as follows:

  • There is a 30-day window to submit proposals in the portal to be available on the NC-SARA website (Jan 3-Feb 3, 2023).
  • All proposed policies will be published for public review.
  • Parties offering policy proposals will have two different opportunities during the modification process calendar to present their proposal in a public forum.
  • There will be a 30-day public comment period beginning April 17, 2023.
  • There will be opportunities for parties submitting proposals to amend, revise, or withdraw their proposals per the timeline.
  • Each of the four regional compacts will review and vote to approve or not approve the proposed policy modifications.
  • Proposed policy modifications approved by each of the four regional compacts will be offered to the NC-SARA Board for a final vote at the Fall NC-SARA Board meeting.
  • Policy modifications that are approved will be published in the amended SARA Policy Manual on December 1.

As mentioned, this is an annual policy cycle such that we anticipate that proposals that are not approved may be seen in an edited form in future cycles. Additionally, because this is the first year of this cycle, everyone will learn in this first cycle and implementation improvements will be considered in future years.       

Policy Modification Submission Form & Communications

Proposals will be submitted by the specific Policy Modification Request Form that will be available on the Participate in SARA Policy Modifications webpage on the NC-SARA website. The standardized form will allow for collection of the necessary information in a uniform manner.  The form will begin with fields for contact information to facilitate communication with the submitter. The submitter must also consider a concise naming of the subject of the request. Within the form there will be a field for the specific suggested policy language modification proposed and field to supply the rationale for this change. A submitter will find a link to the current SARA Policy Manual on the form.  If the proposal is to revise a current policy, access to the manual will facilitate providing identification of the specific policy the submitter wishes to revise (ex. SARA Policy 5.2 Programs leading to Professional Licensure). Additionally, there will be the ability to share supporting documents if desired by the submitter. During a recent webinar, hosted by the NC-SARA office, it was explained that the form will provide for the opportunity to provide multiple proposals within one submission. 

After the form is submitted, the submitter will receive a copy of the information submitted and instructions for logging in to make edits. The submitter will have two different opportunities to make edits to the proposal. Throughout the process submitters will receive automated communications to address key points in the policy modification process.

To facilitate public inclusion in this process, the public will have access to review all proposals. The proposals will be posted on the NC-SARA website no later than February 8, 2023, to give the public time for review in advance of the comment period in April.

The progress of the process may be followed by all interested parties by public announcements posted on the NC-SARA website and through public email to NC-SARA’s registered contacts. Interested parties that are not currently on the NC-SARA Mailing List will find access to register for the list at the footer of each webpage of the NC-SARA website under Stay Informed – Sign Up.

With the adoption of the new Policy Modification Process, the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (SARA) has been ushered into a new era. An era of clarity and transparency. An era of compromise.  And most importantly, an era of genuine and effective collaboration.  In a time when the foundational tenets of our nation are facing divisive rhetoric and immense polarization, concerned citizens set aside their differences and came together for a common cause…to protect students. This major milestone is proof that consensus can be achieved.  Therefore, let us remember this achievement and allow the Policy Modification Process to guide our work as we continue to progress the state authorization reciprocity agreement.

– Terrence R. Scarborough, M.P.A.; Director of SARA North Carolina; Chair of the SREB-SARA Regional Steering Committee

Consider participating in the policy modification process!

Much like our encouragement to participate in the Federal rulemaking process by submitting public comments, we encourage you to follow the SARA policy modification process closely. Changes to SARA Policy could affect how you manage interstate compliance and provide support for your out-of-state distance education students. If you find areas of SARA policy confusing, you may wish to submit a policy proposal that provides clarification.

We anticipate that policies that had been paused during the modification process development will be revived and submitted through the new process. The Regional Steering Committee members have been active in working on proposals they will submit. Additionally, we anticipate that suggested enriched student protections suggested by consumer advocates will also be submitted.

text box with the word "comment"

Upon review of the published proposals of others, you may have questions, comments, and opinions about the proposed language, including ability to effectively implement the proposed policy, unintended consequences on students and questions about structure of the proposed policy. The public comment period in April is an important time for the public to raise their questions and concerns.

As we share about developing public comments for the U.S. Department of Education, we encourage you to be positive and helpful in your proposals and comments. It is important for us to remember that SARA Policy is intended to provide consistent regulatory oversight of institutions to protect students as consumers. Unfortunately, some think that making processes easier for institutions is the main purpose of SARA. While that is a nice side benefit, the state role in consumer protection is paramount in this state-to-state agreement. As a result, it is important to develop clear and reasonable policies for which the institution can implement to best serve their students.

The recent webinar, The SARA Policy Modification Process hosted by NC-SARA is posted on the NC-SARA website for your review. We urge you to review their archived recording and slide deck.

Watch for SAN and WCET to share more on the progress of this new process. Look for the opportunity to submit a proposal in January. Then in April, look for the opportunity to review and submit public comments to address any clarification, guidance, or concerns that you may have about the proposed policies. We are excited about the potential of this new process and look forward to reporting on the next steps!