Thursday, April 21, 2011

Universities get some relief from DOE with regard to distance learning courses

UPCEA PLC Participants – In case you haven’t already heard …

The US Department of Education released a "New" Dear Colleague letter yesterday (Wednesday, April 20th) that is EXTENDING the enforcement date to July 1, 2014.

Important Links:

WCET Blog Update on New Colleague Letter (April 20, 2011)

New Dear Colleague Letter (April 20, 2011)

Breathing Room on State Authorization – Inside Higher Ed (April 21, 2011)

Highlighted Changes – New Dear Colleague Letter (April 20, 2011):

Residency: Notice below how the US Department of Education is now referencing "students' place of residence" when engaged in distance education. This will make it much easier for institutions to track students since the previous rule did not refer to residency.

Comprehensive Directory: The US Department of Education is now going to work with "appropriate parties develop a comprehensive directory of State requirements." This will certainly assist in streamlining the process since the previous rule required that each institution contact all 50 states on their own accord. Additionally, the US Department of Education has stated that it will make the "Directory" publicly available on the Department's Web site once it is developed. This will ensure that as the states continue to update their policies that they are reflected in one common site as opposed to the previous rule which required higher education institutions to track changes/updates as they were made within each state.

Documentation: Documentation is still needed from each state even if the state does not have any policies regarding distance education. However, you will notice in the section on Supporting State Coordination that the US Department of Education is now seeking suggestions to "develop model reciprocal agreements, common applications, or other methods that States could adopt to foster compliance." It is with great hope that this process will become more centralized through the proposed comprehensive directory and common applications as well as reciprocal agreements.

Signature on New Dear Colleague Letter: The new Dear Colleague letter is now signed by Eduardo M. Ochoa, Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education which indicates that this issue is now at a higher level. All previous documentation was signed and sent out on the senior policy analyst level. Eduardo M. Ochoa -

Excerpts from the New Dear Colleague Letter:

Clarification of Enforcement. With regard to the State authorization provisions at 34 C.P.R. § 600.9(c), the Department will not initiate any action to establish repayment liabilities or limit student eligibility for distance education activities undertaken before July 1,2014, so long as the institution is making good faith efforts to identify and obtain necessary State authorizations before that date. Evidence of good faith efforts by institutions could include anyone or more of the following items:

* Documentation that an institution is developing a distance education management process for tracking students' place of residence when engaged in distance education.
* Documentation that an institution has contacted a State directly to discuss programs the institution is providing to students in that State to determine whether authorization is needed.
* An application to a State, even if it is not yet approved.
* Documentation from a State that an application is pending.

Development of a Comprehensive Directory. As part of our technical assistance efforts, we are committed to working with appropriate parties to develop a comprehensive directory of State requirements that provides a meaningful opportunity for States to clearly articulate their specific requirements and for institutions of higher education to easily access the requirements and apply to the State for authorization. Once the directory is developed, we plan to make it publicly available on the Department's Web site.

Supporting State Coordination. States determine what requirements, if any, distance education programs offered within their borders must meet. As a result, efforts to clarify and coordinate State laws require the engagement of States and the entire higher education community. We are interested in working with the community to support States' efforts to develop model reciprocal agreements, common applications, or other methods that States could adopt to foster compliance. We welcome suggestions from institutions and associations about how such efforts could be undertaken to best meet the needs of institutions and States.

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