Reasonable Cause and Voluntary Membership: The Key Objectives When Institutions Wish to Change a Primary Accreditor

Today, WCET’s policy team shares important updates about guidance from the Department regarding approval for accreditation changes.

Due to an important federal regulatory change that became effective July 1, 2020, which expanded formerly “regional accreditors” beyond specific geographic areas for institutional accreditors and a new state law in Florida requiring public institutions to change their accreditor on a periodic basis, the U.S. Department of Education determined the need to issue guidance addressing institutions’ changes of accreditors. This very functional guidance is important for institutions to understand the steps that institutions must take when making a change in their primary accreditor or obtaining accreditation by multiple agencies. Additionally, accreditors will benefit from clarifications regarding the Department’s review process to approve accreditor changes.

The guidance released on Tuesday, July 19, 2022, included direction to institutions as to appropriate purpose and specific process steps to make changes plus direction to institutional accrediting agencies to ensure that the changes are for “reasonable cause” and are “voluntary.” Simultaneously, the Department released a post, Postsecondary Accreditation Cannot Become a Race to the Bottom, in its blog HOMEROOM, The Official Blog of the U.S. Department of Education, to further clarify its reasoning for issuing new guidance. Institutions should carefully consider the Departments’ documents as they operationalize the process described by the guidance.

The guidance documents include the following:

  1. (GEN-22-10) Guidance for Institutions Seeking to Change or Add Accrediting Agencies – addresses how the Department evaluates the materials provided by the institutions when requesting to change accrediting agencies to ensure “reasonable cause” for a change.

Guidance for Institutions Seeking to Change or Add Accrediting Agencies

Photo of the capital building in Washington DC

To make a change or add an accrediting agency, institutions are statutorily required by the Higher Education Act to submit materials concerning the change to Federal Student Aid (FSA) to demonstrate “reasonable cause” for the change. Federal regulation, 34 CFR 600.11 provides the implementation structure for the statutory requirement by directing institutions to submit materials to establish “reasonable cause” in order for the Department to approve the change.

Federal regulation directs that the FSA will not provide a determination of “reasonable cause” if the institution’s accreditation has been terminated for cause or the institution placed on probation or suspended for cause in the preceding 24 months unless the termination is rescinded or due to accreditor improper action.

Review by FSA is on an institution-by-institution basis which will include specific circumstances related to the institution’s history of compliance, financial stability, and other institutional information supporting the institution’s request for change.

The Department’s guidance, which provided a nonexclusive list of factors to evaluate the request for change of accreditor, include:

  1. The institution’s stated reason for the proposed change or multiple accreditations.
  2. Whether the institution is seeking to change accrediting agencies or multiple accreditations to lessen oversight or rigor, evade inquiries or sanctions, or the risk of inquiries or sanctions by its existing accrediting agency.
  3. Whether the proposed change of agencies or multiple accreditations would strengthen institutional quality.
  4. Whether the institution is seeking to change agencies or seeking multiple accreditations because the new agency and its standards are more closely aligned with the institution’s mission than the current accrediting agency.
  5. Whether the proposed change or addition involves an accrediting agency that has been subject to Department action.
  6. Whether, if ultimately approved by the Department and the accrediting agency, the institution’s membership in the accrediting agency would be voluntary, as required for recognition of the accrediting agency under 34 CFR § 602.14(a).

The Department made it clear in its guidance that it is the responsibility of the institution to provide sufficient evidence through its materials to the FSA to reach a finding of “reasonable cause” for the requested change.

Procedures for Institutions Seeking Approval of a Request to Change or Add Accrediting Agencies

Change in Process: Before applying to a new accrediting agency, institutions must first submit the required materials to the Department’s Federal Student Aid (FSA) and receive the Department’s approval.

Institutions should pay close attention to the steps provided by this guidance to seek FSA approval for a change a primary accrediting agency. This 2022 guidance updates, revokes, and supersedes previous guidance published in 2016. The significant change in process now directs that the institution must submit the required materials to FSA and obtain notification of approval prior to submitting an application to a new accrediting agency. The Department reminds institutions that failure to follow the procedures could affect the institution’s accreditation status and impact eligibility for Title IV HEA programs.

The new guidance directs that the institution must proceed with the following steps to seek a change to the primary accreditor or add a new accrediting agency:

  1. Prior to applying to the new accrediting agency, notify FSA in writing of the intent to make a change primary accreditor or add a new agency. Notification must include the materials demonstrating “reasonable cause” and submitted via email to with a subject line that reads “Notification Regarding Accreditation.” 
  2. Prior to submitting an application to the new accrediting agency, the institution must receive notification from FSA that the institution has provided the required materials, demonstrated “reasonable cause” and has the Department’s approval.
  3. After the institution receives notification from FSA, as previously described, and has secured new accreditation or pre-accreditation by an agency recognized by the Department, the institutions must formally notify FSA of the new accreditation in the online electronic application (E-App) and update the “primary accreditor” if there is a change. The notification in the online electronic application should include documentation regarding the new accrediting agency.

Additionally, the Department guidance instructs institutions not to drop its association with the current accrediting agency until after:

  1. Approval of the institution’s request for change or additional agency by FSA,
  2. Granting of accreditation by the new agency, and
  3. Acknowledgement by FSA by written notice of the new accrediting agency.

Letter from the Department to Institutional Accrediting Agencies

The Department, by public letter to institutional accrediting agencies, chose to address inquiries regarding the “voluntary membership” requirement as directed by Federal regulation 34 CFR 602.14(a) to implement the statutory requirement of the 1992 HEA Reauthorization. This letter, while not submitted within the typical Dear Colleague Letter structure of Department guidance, provides insight into the Department’s analysis of the Federal regulatory language and how it may affect institutions in Florida seeking to comply with new Florida Law SB 7044 (which took effect, July 1, 2022).

old looking handwritten letters
Image by Nicole from Pixabay

The letter shared the history of accrediting agencies, the recognition of the voluntary membership by institutions to accrediting agencies by Congress, and the important relationship of the program integrity triad. The Triad, which consists of states, accreditors, and the Department, is noted to have “distinct principal areas of responsibility” to work together to support quality in higher education. Additionally, the letter described the two guidance documents previously discussed addressing specific process and required FSA finding of “reasonable cause,” for FSA to approve a change of primary accrediting agency or additional accreditor.

Specific to the circumstances surrounding the new Florida state law, the Department expressed its concern that the new law potentially undermines the voluntary nature of accreditation and could impact the independent roles of the members of the triad. The Department advises accreditors to consider whether accrediting an institution will compromise the voluntary nature of the institutions membership prior to approving the institution’s membership application.

In addition to reasonable cause, the Department’s letter indicated that there will be an examination of voluntariness by FSA during the review of an institution’s request. The Department explained that even if there can be a finding of reasonable cause based on the institution’s materials, FSA will consider all relevant factors to determine that an accreditation agency has a voluntary membership. Upon a finding that the accrediting agency does not have a voluntary membership, the Department will not recognize the accrediting agency.


This three-part guidance provided a very practical application structure and useful insight of factors for application analysis for institutions to establish “reasonable cause” for a primary accrediting agency change or addition. Furthermore, the Department provided notice to institutional accrediting agencies and the public that in this application process, FSA will scrutinize the institution’s application and review all relevant information to determine if the accrediting agency has a voluntary membership.

We will continue to watch and share information on the institutional impact with the implementation of this structure and scrutiny in the next few years as institution’s seek new primary accreditors or additions either as a result of the change in Federal regulations or compliance with the new Florida law.


#WCET2021- That’s A Wrap…Almost

The 33rd WCET Annual Meeting took place on November 2nd in our virtual platform. The event was a one-day conference which included two pre-conference workshops as well as post-conference sessions taking place this week and next. Although we were disappointed that we were unable convene in person yet again this year, our virtual Annual Meeting afforded many positives and a few challenges.

WCET Annual Meeting banner with a graphic of a tree in fall.

The Format

When the WCET team realized that the likelihood of meeting face-to-face was low, we brainstormed numerous options for creating a high-quality educational content, in a virtual format, that would be compelling enough to keep attendees engaged. Sound like a familiar challenge? We were up for it, that’s what we do and is in our mission and vision. We vetted our options with the WCET Steering Committee and landed on a one-day meeting with value added content before and after.

The format seemed to work well, and the early feedback is that attendees liked that they could block their calendar for the day and participate versus juggling the competing demands that we are all familiar with during multi day virtual events. This did pose some challenges, as our staff was spread across numerous sessions, supporting registration, and providing tech support simultaneously, but they are amazing and executed beautifully. Thank you WCET staff!

The Content      

Condensing the conference program from 100 to 26 sessions meant that we had to creatively showcase good practices and shared challenges in digital learning in higher education. Our program team did this by developing sessions that incorporated perspectives from different institutions and roles in unique sessions like lightning talks. Attendees learned different approaches to tackling digital learning challenges on the topics of online student services, equity in course and assessment design, deep learning, badges, and microcredentials, and more.

Screen shot of panelists: Pyeper Wilkins, Angie Paccione, Feng Hou, and John Dominque.
Opening General Session Panel

The opening general session, Empowering Learners: Can Blockchain Technology Unlock the Full Potential of Transcripts and Credentials? featured higher education leaders discussing distributed ledger technology and the potential for democratizing learning by providing trusted and verifiable learning and employment records that a student owns. The speakers shared stories of impact and hopes for the future. The potential exists and the promise of NFT tokens for students and professors, digital transcripts, and more, are abundant. However, challenges such as interopability, cost, and scale, are a reality. This session gave attendees a lot to ponder and pushed our thinking at the outset of the conference.

The program was a strong mix of pragmatic solutions, roundtable discussions, and inspiration. The speakers were all incredible and covered an array of topics. It was truly difficult to select from the concurrent session options. I was only able to participate in a few since I couldn’t be in more than one Zoom room at a time, but I am thankful that one of the affordances of a virtual event is that the sessions can be viewed asynchronously by registrants so I’ll be catching up this weekend!

The Twitter hashtag, #WCET2021, lists several session snippets, Tweet-able tidbits, and some puppy pictures sprinkled in if you want some bite size highlights.

The Attendees                                                    

Another one of the upsides to the event being virtual is that travel funds were not a roadblock for access. Organizations were able to bring groups of attendees and several institutions brought teams of  25. We had more than 600 people register and welcomed over 400 people to their first WCET Annual Meeting; 62% of total attendees were first timers! Attendees came from institutions across the United States with nearly every state represented. The table below shows which states the majority of attendees came from.

Chart showing attendance from the top 10 states including Texas, Colorado, Ohio, and California.

The Surprise

The highlight of the Annual Meeting for me was the networking lunch, which was a sneaky cover for our Awards Lunch. Why didn’t we just say it was an awards lunch on the program? We knew that our awardees would connect the dots and know they were invited because they were going to receive an award, it’s always more fun to surprise an honoree! Our award recipients are incredibly deserving and very good sports:

  • John Opper, executive director of Distance Learning and Student Services at the Florida Virtual Campus, was awarded the Dick Jonsen & Mollie McGill Award, presented by Mollie McGill, former deputy director of WCET, who made a special guest appearance.  
  • Our emerging young leader award, the Sally Johnstone Award was given to Chantae Recasner, dean of academic success at Northeast Lakeview College in Texas, by Russ Poulin, WCET’s executive director.  

You can learn more about the awards and be sure to give a shout out to John and Chantae who do so much for the WCET community and learners in their states. A huge thank you to Tina Parscal the Chair of the WCET Steering Committee and associate vice chancellor for CCCOnline and Academic Affairs with the Colorado Community College System, for emceeing the surprise ceremony. Watch the celebration below.


The 33rd Annual Meeting and 2nd Virtual Annual Meeting was great no matter the format, because of the people- staff, speakers, and participants. WCET is an incredibly friendly and collaborative community of digital learning leaders and practitioners. The virtual format provided many benefits, but I for one am looking forward to talking over coffee with new and old friends at the 34th, October 19 – 21 in Denver, CO! We will announce the call for proposals in March so stay tuned to @WCET_info on Twitter or the WCET member community, MIX. We’d also like to know which locales you would like to see future WCET conferences take place. Tweet them or leave them in the comments below.

See you next year,



The Fun of Minneapolis and #WCET16

WCET’s 28th Annual Meeting is a mere seven weeks away- October 12-14.  In no time, our community of edtech leaders and innovators will convene in beautiful Minneapolis to connect with colleagues,  exchange ideas,  and share triumphs and challenges. The WCET program is a blend of extended sessions which provide a deep dive into emerging issues, panel sessions, facilitated discussions, and networking events.  Make the most of your time at #WCET16 and in the scenic urban oasis of Minneapolis.

Minnehaha falls_ Evan Miles
Minnehaha Falls, Photo Credit: Evan Miles, flickr

WCET Activities at the Meeting
Here are a few ways to enhance your conference itinerary:

Minneapolis Highlights

Betcha don’t get to go to Land of 10,000 Lakes, very often, doncha know.  Try and achieve as many of these as you can and Tweet it with #WCET16.

We look forward to seeing you in Minneapolis in October.  If you haven’t registered yet, do so before the early bird registration rate expires on September 9. Join us.

Megan Raymond headshotMegan Raymond
Assistant Director, Programs and Sponsorship
WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies



You Too Have Déjà vu with EdTech Conferences?

A list of conferences in a circular pattern showing the seasons of the year
Higher-Ed Edtech & Innovation Conferences graphic from our Friends at EdSurge HigherEd.

We have all attended a conference and had that déjà vu feeling, where you look at the program and the attendees and have the sensation that you’ve recently experienced this same thing. If you Google EdTech conferences you’ll get a this lengthy list from EdSurge Higher Ed and more lists.

The upside is that tech-enhanced teaching and learning is well beyond the peak of inflated expectations and is a standard mode of education delivery.

The marketplace is still ripe for innovation and sharing of best practices and each EdTech conference brings its own unique twist and synergy to the mix.  In the mix, what niche does the WCET Annual Meeting fill?

The WCET Annual Meeting, in its 28th year, continues to evolve.  The second meeting, held in Jackson, WY, demonstrated the promise of a T1 line, which was a buried cable capable of a transmitting a whopping 1.5 mbps.  This year, in Minneapolis, October 12-14, in our pockets we will carry 4G cell phones capable of communicating at 100 mbps. Like our phones, our programming is also keeping a rapid pace of change.

Engaging Sessions

A depiction of the Gartner Hype Cycle graph, which has Visibility as the Y axis and Time as the X Axis. A curved line goes through the following steps: 1) Technology Trigger, 2) Peak of Inflated Expectations, 3) Trough of Disillusionment, 4) Slope of Enlightenment, and 5) Plateau of Productivity.
The Gartner Hype Cycle:

At the Annual Meeting, Jaime Casap, chief education evangelist with Google, will inspire us to look at how we can continue to make education a powerful, effective, and engaging learning experience.  Throughout the event, we will look at how virtual reality can take us places we never imagined possible.  We will explore how technology can improve or impede access and the essential role of an effective digital inclusion strategy.  As the leader in the practice, policy, and advocacy of technology-enhanced teaching and learning, WCET’s program includes several sessions on timely higher education policy issues, including a discussion with David Soo, senior policy advisor with the U.S. Department of Education and Burck Smith, CEO, with StraighterLine discussing “The Growth of Alternative Providers: Competitors, Partners, or Both?”  And if you are looking for an opportunity to discuss quality with the experts, bring your questions to the “Ask an Accreditor Roundtable: The Future of Quality” session.

The WCET program is a mix of concurrent sessions, roundtable discussions, general session panels, and in-depth deep dive topic discussions.  The in-depth sessions provide context from expert panelists, lessons learned, and strategies attendees can bring back to their institutions as well as small group discussions. This year, the in-depth topics cover the key issues of open content and resources, stackable credentials, and adaptive learning.   Not to be missed, a closing panel discussion with several leaders from innovation hubs from institutions across the United States, including an MIT media lab student who has launched her own open source content platform, FOLD , in Innovation Hubs and Labs: Driving Change and Creativity.

 A Comfortable, Manageable Size

WCET’s niche, beyond an emphasis on policy and practice, is the size and scope.  The meeting is capped at 450 attendees and tends to sell out.  This is intentional.  Attendees find value in being able to quickly build their network because they see their colleagues frequently throughout the 2.5 day event.  They appreciate the small group discussions.  The smallness and friendliness of the group creates an inclusive and collegial atmosphere.  The program has broad appeal, most in tech-enhanced teaching and learning will find something of value on the program, but the program is not geared to be all things to people in edtech.  The focus is on providing content that is current, timely, and helps decision makers inform their choices.

A picture of a very large sculpture of a bent spoon with a cherry in the dish of the spoon. All of this is over a lake at the Minnesota Sculpture Garden.
Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

Corporate Participation is Integrated and Not Focused Completely on Sales

What you won’t find in the sea of familiarity that is the fall edtech scene, is a large exhibit hall.  Expos are a great way to meet vendors, pick up swag, and see emerging products and services. But at the WCET Annual Meeting, we think that vendors can bring a lot to the conversation and by engaging directly with attendees, both can shape products and services. Corporate participants have the luxury of looking 5-10 years into the horizon and can help inform our practices. WCET invites corporate attendees to participate like any other conference attendee.  The EdTech Meet-up on Thursday provides a fun and informal networking venue for attendees to connect with corporate attendees as well as institutions showcasing innovative technology applications. The space is a casual area for networking and lounging while engaging with innovative leaders on the corporate and institutional side.  If you are vendor and are interested in learning more, contact us.

Come Join Us at the Annual Meeting in the Twin Cities

In considering where to invest your professional development resources, there’s a lot to factor in to the decision, and plenty to choose from.  View the Annual Meeting program, see why WCET is unique, and join us in Minneapolis in October.

Megan Raymond headshot


Megan Raymond
Assistant Director, Programs and Sponsorship
WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies



Photo credit:
Cherry on spoon at Minnesota Sculpture Garden. Photo by Josh Haroldson used through Creative Commons License.


Progressive and Innovative, Denver is the Perfect Host for #WCET15

Denver and its surrounding area, including Boulder, is known for progressive and innovative tech business incubation and growth. The urban landscape adjacent to the foothills and the Rocky Mountains nurtures an innovative yet reenergizing spirit.  The WCET Annual Meeting, commemorating it’s 27th milestone, will be held in Denver November 11-13 at the Westin Downtown Denver and the conference program is both reenergizing, innovative, and practical.

Denver Super Moon Bo InsongaSince the preliminary program was posted late July, the speaker line-up, workshops, and sessions have evolved. We have several great additions we are pleased to highlight. View the program and make sure to register; registration is capped at 450 to maintain the collegial feel WCET is known for.

Preconference Workshops | Wednesday, Nov. 11
Two preconference workshops are scheduled for Wednesday morning.  Workshops provide an opportunity to dive into a key topic with expert session leaders and a limited number of colleagues. Both are free to WCET members  and a nominal charge for non members.   Space is limited to 40 attendees and participants can register during online registration.

Implementing and Scaling Innovation
WCET Steering Committee chair and the director of Distance Learning  at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Luke Dowden, and Sasha Thackaberry, the district director of eLearning Technologies at Cuyahoga Community College are leading an interactive workshop- Strategic Innovation: Working Through the Strategy and Skeptics.  Attendees will explore concrete strategies for implementing and scaling successful innovation within existing institutional structures.  Through discussion and interactive activities, participants will leave with mini-plans to take back to their institution. Learn how to leverage your college’s culture and context to implement and scale innovation.

Adaptive Learning
On the heels of our successful Leadership Summit, we will be providing a workshop on Adaptive Learning.  The final group of workshop leaders is being confirmed and the description will be posted shortly.  Attendees will explore the many challenging elements of choosing and applying an adaptive learning approach for remedial, undergraduate and graduate, and professional education.  Participants will learn about exciting metrics and tools for incorporating adaptive learning into your programs.

Other Program Additions

National Distance Education and Technological Advancement (DETA) Research Center Workshop | Thursday, Nov. 12
In 2014 the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee established a National Distance Education and Technological Advancement (DETA) Research Center to conduct cross-institutional data collection with 2-year and 4-year Institutions of Higher Education. WCET is pleased to bring Tanya Joosten, the director of E-learning Research and Development at UWM, and her remarkable team, to provide a two-hour workshop on Conducting Research in Blended and Online.  This hands-on-workshop will prepare attendees to take a plan back to their own institution to successfully gather research on blended and online teaching and learning. The session is first come-first served so be sure to grab your seat.

Westin Downtown Denver Mezzanine FoyerEdtech Meet-up | Thursday, Nov. 12
Over the years we have heard from attendees that they like that the WCET meeting doesn’t have a large exhibit hall where sponsors sit and wait for attendees.  However, the feedback is that attendees are still seeking ways to connect with businesses in the edtech sector so they can learn more and connect directly. This year, we are trying something new and we hope it provides value to the attendees from the corporate and institutional side, WCET’s Edtech Meet-up.  The meet-up will include invited corporate participants, businesses that the WCET community wants to hear from, who will have an opportunity to participate in a conference session as well as the meet-up.   The meet-up is a casual venue where tables are setup throughout the mezzanine area of the conference hotel for the invited corporate participants to showcase their product or service on tabletops (not exhibits). Lounging areas are setup throughout the space so attendees can disconnect or reconnect.  We think this will be a great way to see what tech trends are on the horizon, foster interaction, and create an inviting space to mingle.

Opening and Closing General Session: We Need to Be Ready for IoT | Wednesday, Nov. 11 and Friday, Nov. 13
Gartner defines IoT as “the network of physical objects that contain embedded technology to communicate and sense or interact with their internal states or the external environment.” Think- smart coffee pots and thermostats. What do we do with an increasing number of IP-enabled students who show up in IP-enabled vehicles (or via high speed networks), wearing IP-enabled garments, bearing multiple IP-enabled devices, with the expectation that our community has the resources required to meet their expectations? To help institutions address this emerging technology challenge and opportunity, WCET is spotlighting IoT in higher education during the Annual Meeting. The opening and closing keynotes at WCET will discuss many of the IoT implications, considerations, and fun ways connected devices can impact our students and institutions.

connected devices from perspecsys.comThe opening session will be a fun look at the technologies and innovative by  applications for teaching and learning. The ever dynamic and Robbie Melton, associate vice chancellor of mobilization emerging technology with the Tennessee Board of Regents, will guide attendees through mobile aps and alternate realities that help set the context for what IoT on your campus might mean to administrators, instructors, and students.

The closing IoT panel brings together experts in higher education that are exploring and experiencing the impact of IoT. The session will be a lively moderated panel discussion about IoT in higher ed- what are the implications for your campus? What about student privacy? What about accessibility/students with mental illness affected by alternative realties? Who owns the data? and more.  The discussion with Michael  Abbiatti, WCET’s executive director, Florence  Hudson  the senior vice president and chief innovation officer for Internet2, and Bruce  Maas the chief innovation officer and vice provost for information technology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is not to be missed.

What’s next? Stay tuned for information about additional activities and the release of our 2015 mobile app.  The WCET Meeting is capped at 450 attendees to maintain the collegiality of the event. Registration is nearly halfway full so be sure to register soon.  

Megan Raymond Headshot

Megan Raymond
Manager, Events & Programs

Photo Credit: Cloudy Hazy Denver Colorado September Super Moon by Bo Insogna

Photo Credit: Westin Mezzanine Foyer

Photo Credit: Perspecsys


Technology Toys to Tools

Jane Bozarth, author of the book “Social Media for Trainers,” is an expert on training and social media strategy and a dynamic presenter. You won’t want to miss Jane’s keynote presentation which kicks off WCET’s 24th Annual Meeting, October 31 – November 3, in San Antonio. Following is a blog from Jane about how emerging technology, when used effectively, can enhance teaching and learning.

One of the challenges with any emerging technology is the perception that it’s a problem, and this has only  worsened with the advent of social technologies. Blogs, back in the old days, were largely regarded as online one-person rant and argument spaces, not the remarkably easy web page creation tools they really are. Even today, those who don’t know the power of a good Twitter network still think of it as an online free-for-all with people randomly posting what their cats had for breakfast.
But in the right hands – of people who see the new technologies as the means of solving a problem, easing a pain point, or reaching a learner in a new way – these “toys” can be powerful tools.  Like the 2nd grade teacher who used Skype so the kids could stay in daily video contact with an 8-year-old classmate kept home when chemotherapy treatments left him susceptible to infections. Or the CEO, tired of hearing that the front line employees felt there were too many communication obstacles, began scheduling Google + hangouts so staff could drop in and chat with him for a moment. For learning? There’s microblog-based bookclubs, image-based learning experiences for low-literacy adult readers,  virtually all of whom own a mobile phone with a camera, constantly evolving worker-generated FAQs wiki pages for new hires,  and Facebook working as a reasonable facsimile (architecturally, anyway) for an LMS.
The challenge?  Looking past the hype at the potential benefits. Exploring the technology enough to understand it at its root. Identifying real gaps and problems in existing practice, and choosing the right tools to use when. In other words: leveraging the toys in ways to make them useful tools, not timewasters.

Want to know more?  Join me in San Antonio for the WCET Annual Meeting! Registration is open.

Read more about Jane and view the description of her keynote presentation.


Forging the Future: How Much Affordability Can Higher Education Afford?

Increased affordability is a hot topic for 2012, but just how much affordability can higher education afford?  How do we increase affordability and what are the pitfalls? The Forging the Future workshop, developed and directed by Myk Garn, Southern Regional Education Board; Hae Okimoto, University of Hawai’i System; Rob Robinson, University of Texas – San Antonio focused on reducing the cost of the baccalaureate degree.  Following is a summary from the 2011 Forging the Future workshop held in conjunction with the WCET Annual Conference, October, 26-29, 2011 where experts analyzed the affordability topic in depth.  View the full report

Mark your calendar for the 2012 Conference and Forging the Future 2, October 31-November 3, 2012.

Photo of Hae Okimoto
Hae Okimoto, Director of Academic Technologies University of Hawai’i System

Photo of Myk Garn
Myk Garn, Director, Educational Technology Southern Regional Education Board

This fall we have convened over 60 educational technology leaders from more than 30 states through two separate workshops, in an examination of what role technology can play in making Baccalaureate degrees significantly more affordable.  Using the target price of $10,000 suggested by Texas Governor Rick Perry in 2011, and working in teams, the experts identified the issues, trends, and uncertainties surrounding affordability today – and looked at events that could potentially alter affordability in the future.

The results of the investigation give us both tactics that are immediately available to increase affordability using our current fiscal structures and suggest ways we can dramatically increase affordability in the future.  In the former we can reduce the cost of a degree, in the latter, the time-to-degree.

Through Forging the Future, a full day workshop held in conjunction with the WCET Annual Conference in Denver, CO, October 26-29, 2011, participants (online higher education leaders from more than 20 institutions across the U.S.) delved into the possibility of the $10,000 degree.  They were asked to rate the importance and predictability of the factors and the results were plotted to identify factors that were highly important and predictable (trends) and those that were highly important but less predictable (uncertainties).

Following are some of the highlights assimilated from both the Forging the Future workshop and the Southern Regional Education Board workshop also focused on the affordability topic.

Trends Impacting an Affordable Baccalaureate Degree.

In the face of increasing pressure for accountability and competition, universities can be expected to develop more partnerships among K-12 schools, community colleges, other universities, and external providers.  Online learning, a competency-based curriculum, and advancement with mastery are the primary innovation trends that are already available in meeting the desired outcome of affordability.

Interestingly experts almost universally rejected developing a new entity with an express purpose of offering an affordable degree (the virtual university option).  Apparently we have been down that road already.

Leading Trends Impacting Affordability

  • Competition between public institutions and among public and for-profit institutions would increase.
  • Legislative emphasis on outcomes and affordability will increase driven, in part, by the impact of the implementation of common core state standards in the K12 sector and the new generation assessments being developed to measure outcomes.
  • Partnerships among K-12, community colleges, and universities are critical to degree affordability and will become more common. Partnerships with educational management organizations (EMOs) will increase in importance as well.
  • Online learning options, driven by increasing needs to work, learn, and study where ever students are and whenever they want, will continue to increase.  Shifting to digital content and establishing robust online student support services are critical to success.
  • Implementation of competency-based teaching and learning models are critical to affordability and the emphasis will continue to grow

Uncertainties in Increasing Academic Affordability

  • Economic outlook.  Challenges of the “new normal” budgeting where current reductions will continue and in some cases worsen.
  • Pressure from the public and policymakers are critical driving factors but the intensity of that pressure is not certain.
  • The cost of purchasing (and developing) the technology needed to support or drive change is expected to be significant, but nobody knows for sure which technologies are needed nor what they will truly cost.
  • The differential between the high speed at which technology is driving change across the education sector and the slow speed of cultural change at academic institutions give rise to significant concerns.
  • Faculty attitudes, participation, and support are among the most critical factors in affordability.  The role of faculty will increase over the next three years, but it is highly uncertain whether they will support or resist changes.

Tactics for Today

Because affordability is an issue with significant current implications for institutions, workshop participants identified several tactics that would be effective in reducing costs in the short term:

  • Earning college credit in high school.

    Forging the Future logo
    Image Credit: jscreationzs
  • Greater alignment between K-12 and higher education.
  • Dual credit between K-12 and community colleges.
  • 2+2 programs between community colleges and universities.
  • Credit for prior learning.
  • Conversion from textbooks to digital content.

Deep Concerns for the Future

The experts observed that, once you accept the premise of offering a four-year degree at a target cost of $10,000, you are stuck with a simple and depressing equation. No matter how clever or complicated the calculus or how you play the fiscal shell game of shifting costs among the campus, student, and state, the biggest reduction would need to be in costs of faculty.  While technology could reduce costs modestly (such as through transition to digital OER content), reducing the cost of instruction is where the burden would fall.

This observation was captured in the inevitable conclusion, “If you want a cheaper degree…you need to get cheaper faculty.”

Towards a Better Solution (and Return on Investment)

As can be imagined, this was neither a palatable nor acceptable solution to the experts.  And this is where the thinking got interesting.  The affordability constraints academia deals with are epitomized in the “iron triangle” of cost, quality, and time.  Adjusting one impacts the others.

Reexamining the strictures of the triangle, our experts chose to rethink not quality (as proxy for the cost of faculty) but time as the nexus for innovation.  We need to change our concept of a baccalaureate degree from a credential awarded after 120 credit hours of instruction to a credential earned after 120 credits of demonstrated competencies. Key to this capability is developing the pedagogical infrastructure of competencies and correlated assessments that enable validation of learning and advancement upon mastery.

Technology will be an instrumental part of a competency-based model. Research shows technology enables students to learn at the same level of quality – in less time.  When students can complete coursework in perhaps half the time, it now becomes conceivable to leverage technology to reduce the time to degree.

Strategies for Change

In summary, the most self-evident conclusion is that, if an institution is preparing to invest in a transformative change initiative, the best focus may not be to fund more faculty development of technology infused courses. The only “bolts on” technology (and its accompanying costs) to a model that is already affordability-challenged.  The opportunity for changing the time factor in the baccalaureate process is real. It was revealed by the work of 60 experts this fall, that when an institution focuses on just four key actions they will provide the pedagogical infrastructure for true transformation.

These four actions are:

  1. Establish competency-based instruction across the institution.
  2. Develop assessments and robust assessment engines correlated to those competencies.
  3. Create the technological and analytical platforms that support independent, personalized learning paths for all students
  4. Implement the ability to advance individually upon mastery instead of by course or credit hour.


First the good news.  Technology can help address affordability in the ways we do things now.  Dual-credit, early college, 2+2 programs between community colleges and universities all are proven ways to reduce cost while maintaining quality.  More importantly, the real potential lies in doing things differently…for most institutions.  There are already successful examples of competency-based advancement upon mastery institutions (Western Governors University comes to mind).

And the bad news?  Technology does not care if we succeed or not.  That is the challenge.  Can our culture move at the speed of technology?  Is there a pace at which we can survive the revolution?  The scenarios developed by the experts of the Forging the Future workshop tell us yes.  Higher education is resilient, resourceful, and can actually be pretty innovative.


Learn. Do. Connect. Enjoy. In the Mile High City.

WCET’s 23rd Annual Conference is just around the corner.  The office is a buzz with the coordination of speakers, logistics, and details for the conference. I like many of you, am wondering if we lost a month of summer, because it can’t possibly be September already (those yellow leaves MUST be a tree blight, right?), and certainly can’t be six weeks away from the conference.  Just typing out s-i-x makes sweat bead on my forehead. Despite the familiar anxiety of the approaching conference, we are tremendously excited about the conference and WCET member meeting.  Read on for a sampling of what’s in store for #wcet11 and view the complete schedule hereThe early-bird deadline is September 16, so register soon!

Wednesday Preconference Activities

The day before the conference officially kicks-off we have several activities which allow for deeper and bigger thinking on topics affecting you and your institution.  The WCET Common Interest Groups have put together several collaborative group discussions open to all around the following topics:

Also on Wednesday is the inaugural Forging the Future Preconference workshop intensive.  Thanks to Governor Perry the topic, the $10,000 Baccalaureate Degree, is hotter than we imagined when we selected it back in the spring.   This will be a lively discussion about recasting our thinking about traditional higher education and increasing access, politics aside.   Our fearless leaders, Myk Garn, Hae Okimoto, and Rob Robinson, are also hosting a webcast on September 15 on the topic.

Mobile Program Application
This is the second year of our mobile conference application and this year you will find a more robust app. Can’t say much more since it’s still in the development phase, but you will be able to create your own schedule, access session materials that the speakers provide, view Denver information, and tweet directly from the app.  We’ve also created a tablet version.  You’ll be able to find it in the app store in the beginning of October (at the latest), search WCET11.

Unique WCET Session Formats
Where else can you attend a Buzz Breakfast and Pecha Kucha Smackdown? At WCET we craft a dynamic program which includes unique session formats to engage the attendees and further the conversations.

  • Buzz Breakfasts- are roundtable discussions on timely and relevant topics facilitated by a host.  Find a topic that resonates with you or start your own.  Leave with new ideas and strategies to bring back to your institution.
  • Pecha Kucha Smackdown– After botching the name as the MC last year, I’ve resorted to calling these rapid-fire presentations “PK”. Each of the five presenters has 20 slides, each shown for 20 seconds, for a total of just six minutes and 40 seconds.  PK was a huge hit in La Jolla last year, and from what I know of the presenters this year, you will not want to miss this Friday afternoon event.
  • Poster Sessions- These are interactive presentations where the presenter has a poster/laptop display of an innovative project or topic.  These are very popular, and not just because they are in conjunction with the Thursday morning coffee break and afternoon dessert break.

The PK slots are full, but if you are interested in hosting a buzz breakfast on Saturday or doing a Thursday poster session contact us:

Start Fresh/Leave Inspired
Thursday morning the conference starts with Adrian Sannier, vice president of product at Pearson eCollege and Mark Sarver, CEO of EduKan talking about What’s Ahead for Higher Ed?  These guys aren’t your typical keynoters and this won’t be your typical general session. Come prepared to participate in the conversation and set the wheels of transformation in motion at your institution.  Read more in their recent WCET blog.

Don’t book your travel to leave before the closing session on Saturday, Visions of Educational Technology Trends.  As I write, I am finalizing the details on this engaging, entertaining, and savvy group of panelists who will share their perspectives on what’s to come in the world of ed tech. What’s on the horizon that will shape the way we deliver education? These panelists have some thoughts, and we’d love to hear yours.

Oh, and don’t forget about the drawing for a very generous Marriott gift certificate that takes place during the closing, you must be present to win.

Networking without the hard-work
Consistently we hear how valuable the WCET Conference is for networking.  We are such a friendly and relatively small group, ~400; it’s easy to make lasting connections.  WCET has numerous activities and venues for bringing together our community.  Just a few of the highlights:

Concurrent Sessions
I’ve blogged on long enough (I told you there is A LOT to be excited about), but I would be remiss in not mentioning the over 140 speakers and nearly 40 concurrent sessions.   Topics range from the ever-popular State Authorization to a conversation with the accreditors to the Labor Department’s TACT Grant which will fund Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TACT) grant program.

The WCET Program Committee did an outstanding job helping craft the program and coordinate the sessions. They are a hard-working group that was instrumental in the high-quality programming. Visit the conference schedule and see what else you can’t afford to miss!  Using the advanced search feature will help you find sessions by key word, speaker, format, and topic area.

Now, I better get back to conference organizing, see you in six (yikes) weeks!  Don’t forget to register by the early-bird deadline of September 16!

Megan Raymond
Manager, Events & Programs, WCET

WCET Annual Conference:
Conference registration:

Twitter:  @wcet_info      Conference Hashtag: #wcet11

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What’s Ahead for Higher Education?

Adrian Sannier, vice president of product at Pearson eCollege, and Mark Sarver, CEO of EduKan, will be kicking off WCET”S 23rd Annual Conference, in Denver, CO on October 26-29.  The duo will present about the future of technology in higher education, where it’s headed and how we will get there.  Both are clever, witty, and engaging.  The following guest blog provides a glimpse of what they will discuss at the conference on Thursday, October 26 in their keynote presentation, “What’s Ahead for Higher Education?”

Over the past 20 years, the Digital Shift has transformed whole industries. Manufacturing — with its clean, robotic, automated plants creating products designed on computers — is a distant cousin to Henry Fords human intensive assembly line. Modern banking — with its ATMs, online banks and Mortgage websites — bears little resemblance to the teller’s window that characterized banks for decades. Media businesses — music, movies, photography, and now television and books — all have been drastically altered by the introduction of digital creation, distribution and consumption.

Image of a lecture hall
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Through all the digital shifts in these other industries, education has remained relatively unchanged. Despite prognostications that the DigitalShift in education was just around the corner, classrooms are still familiar.  As early as the 1970 report by The Carnagie Commission, and every year since, technology promised but failed to transform education.

We invite you to join us in Denver, CO at the WCET Annual Conference, October 26-29, 2011 to explore the idea that after all these decades, and all these false alarms, the time for change is finally upon us. The confluence of mobile ubiquity, affordable broadband, kindle success and iPad magic has created a climate for change. Accepting that premise, we propose that — just as in other industries that have gone digital — their will be innovators and laggards along a variety of dimensions. In our general session talk, “What’s Ahead for Higher Education”  on Thursday, October 27,  we want to explore what will categorize innovators and laggards with respect to a variety of different axes of opportunity.

Adrian Sannier, vice president of product at Pearson eCollege

Mark Sarver, CEO of EduKan

Twitter: #wcet11


Further Clarification about Federal Complaint Process Requirement

We have received a lot of questions about the complaint process portion of the federal student complaint process regulation since Russ’s July 19 blog Federal Student Complaint Regulation- Clarifying Misconceptions. My sense is that some are panicking at the thought of being out of compliance.  While being out of compliance is never a good thing, we encourage you not to panic.  Yes, your institution needs to be in compliance and yes, you should have been by July 1, 2011, but you are not alone if you are confused and out of compliance.

The following aims to clarify some of the misconceptions and help your institution provide the necessary information to students, and get you into compliance.

Misconception #1: The federal law was repealed so we do not need to establish a complaint process.

Only 34 CFR 600.9(c) was vacated by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, the complaint process portion of the regulation is still in place:

§ 668.43 (b) Institutional Information

(b) The institution must make available for review to any enrolled or prospective student upon request, a copy of the documents describing the institution’s accreditation and its State, Federal, or tribal approval or licensing. The institution must also provide its students or prospective students with contact information for filing complaints with its accreditor and with its State approval or licensing entity and any other relevant State official or agency that would appropriately handle a student’s complaint.

The Electronic Code of Federal Regulations including this regulation can be found here.

Misconception #2: The complaint process is a complicated and work-intensive burden.  Of course none of us are looking for extra work to be piled on and this is just one more thing to manage, but the complaint process information does not have to be unduly complex to meet the requirements.  Here’s what is necessary:

  • The information needs to be provided to prospective and concurrent students.
  • The information needs to be provided to both distance and face-to-face students.
  • This information needs to be provided to the students and not just available upon request.
  • The complaint process information needs to be accessible and easy to find.  See Russ’ excellent suggestions.
  • In a clear and concise paragraph, state your institution’s complaint process and emphasize that all student grievances are first handled internally.  In reality, most grievances will be resolved at the institution level.
  • State that if a complaint is not resolved satisfactorily internally, the student may then file a grievance with the regulatory agency in the state where they are receiving instruction and/or the institution’s accrediting agency.   Students attending your institution for face-to-face classes should file any complaints with the regulatory agency where the institution is located, not in their state of residence.
  • Provide contact information for complaint processes for both your accrediting agency and the state agencies.
  • We encourage you to have one person manage the contact list to make updates as needed.
  • Your institution needs to have and maintain its own list. It could look similar to the example we gave previously from the State Higher Education Executive Offices (SHEEO), however, you cannot simply link to an external comprehensive source.
  • Here are a few excellent examples of clearly articulated complaint processes:

Your institution is required to provide this information to the students. What they do with it is up to them.   On a related note, we have had people inquire about what sort of things students might complain about. Students will be students! I could probably write an entire blog about things students file grievances for from my student affairs experiences. Essentially, anything that the student is unsatisfied about with the institution could lead to a complaint.

Regardless of the complaint, the student needs to have access to information about contacting the accrediting agency and the state approval agency where the student is located.

Misconception #3: If a state doesn’t have a complaint process I don’t need to do anything. Not so fast, 668.43 (b) was not addressed specifically in the second Dear Colleague letter from April 2011, so there remains a requirement to list every state agency where you serve students. 

§ 600.9   State authorization.

(a)(1) An institution described under §§600.4, 600.5, and 600.6 is legally authorized by a State if the State has a process to review and appropriately act on complaints concerning the institution including enforcing applicable State laws, and the institution meets the provisions of paragraphs (a)(1)(i), (a)(1)(ii), or (b) of this section.

If a state agency does not have a complaint process an institution may request a one-year extension from the appropriate state agency. Each institution is responsible for obtaining its own extension. You can work with your coordinating board to request one on your behalf, but each institution bears the ultimate responsibility.  Information about seeking an extension is in the Federal Register on page 66833:

Implementation Date of These Regulations
While the Secretary has designated amended §600.9(a) and (b) as being effective July 1 2011, we recognize that a State may be unable to provide appropriate State authorizations to its institutions by that date.  We are providing that the institutions unable to obtain State authorization in that State may request a one-year extension of the effective date of these final regulations to July 1, 2012, and if necessary, an effective date to July 1, 2013.  To receive an extension of the effective date of amended §600.9(a) and (b) for institutions in a State, an institution must obtain from the State an explanation of how a one-year extension will permit the State to modify its procedures to comply with amended §600.9.

As an example, we recently talked to representatives from all of the public colleges in Wyoming.  Since their state does not have a complaint process, they are expected to obtain letters from Wyoming’s regulatory agency granting them an extension.

Hopefully this information brings some clarity to the complaint process issue.  If you have additional examples of complaint process web pages please add them via the comments section below.

Megan Raymond
Manager, Events & Programs, WCET

Russ Poulin
Deputy Director, WCET

State Approval page:
Twitter:  @wcet_info      State Approval Hashtag: #stateapp

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