The U.S. Department of Education released its final ruling on distance learning regulations that higher education institutions must comply with in order to offer financial aid to students taking such courses.
The Higher Education Act requires colleges and universities to receive authorization from the state in which they are physically located in order to offer any type of financial aid to students. But there were no federal regulations for distance learning providers offering courses outside of their residing state, creating challenges such as verification of student identity and gaps in protection of students as consumers, states the proposed rule.
“Because institutions that offer distance education programs usually offer the programs in multiple States, there are unique challenges with respect to oversight of these programs by State and other agencies,” states the final regulations document, which was published in the Federal Register this month.
The proposed rules will require higher education institutions to get authorization from each state in which they are offering distance learning courses, document the state’s process to resolve student’s complaints and public disclosure of the program’s policies and the risk of moving to a state where the program is not authorized.
“Since distance education may involve multiple States, authorization requirements among States may differ, and students may be unfamiliar with or fail to receive information about complaint processes, licensure requirements, or other requirements of authorities in States in which they do not reside,” state the final regulation. “These disclosures will provide consistent information necessary to safeguard students and taxpayer investments in the title IV, HEA programs.”
These regulations allow the Department of Education to withhold federal funding from institutions who don’t have proper state authorization while protecting students from owing funding due to lack of proper disclosure of procedures or any other issue.
The education department received 139 comments from higher education institutions, distance education advocates, student and consumer advocacy groups and state attorneys general, which were considered in the drafting of the final rule, states a news release by the Department of Education.
“Some States have expressed concerns over their ability to identify which out of State providers are operating in their States; whether those programs prepare their students for employment, including meeting licensure or certification requirements in those States; the academic quality of programs offered by those providers; as well as the ability to receive, investigate and address student complaints about out-of-State institutions,” the regulation states.
A similar rule requiring authorization from states where distance learning courses were offered existed in 2010, the release states, but this portion of the rules was vacated by federal court in 2011.