State Approvals for Online Educators

In October 2010, as part of the Higher Education Reauthorization Act, the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) issued a new regulation (ยง 600.9 State authorization) that will have far-reaching implications for higher education institutions offering online courses to students in other states. By July 1, 2011, institutions must comply with the following regulation:

If an institution is offering postsecondary education through distance or correspondence education to students in a State in which it is not physically located or in which it is otherwise subject to State jurisdiction as determined by the State, the institution must meet any State requirements for it to be legally offering postsecondary distance or correspondence education in that State. An institution must be able to document to the Secretary the State's approval upon request."

The preamble comments associated with the proposed regulations published June 18, 2010 and with the final regulations published October 29, 2010 provide significant background and rationale for the regulations.

This new regulation imposes extraordinary logistical and financial burdens upon the higher education community as well as threatens access to higher education for hundreds of thousands of students. Depending on the extent of online or Independent Study programs, institutions could face registration fees totally over $200,000 annually. USDOE has also required the regional accrediting agencies to report institutions which do not comply and the Department has tied federal aid to non-compliance.

WCET Summary of Requirements

WCET has also created a summary of what both states and institutions must do to meet the Federal Regulations. In addition to the summary below, you can find the full text of the Federal regulations in the right column of this page.

Requirements for States

State licensure and approval agencies need to:

  • Approve institutions to "operate" in the state.

  • If not an institution, approve the entity to offer postsecondary education in the state. "In the case of an entity established as a business or nonprofit charitable organization, i.e., not as an educational institution, the entity would be required to have authorization from the State to offer educational programs beyond secondary education." (Federal Register p. 66858) Some states require entities to have a business license, but this seems to require that states also approve the entity to offer postsecondary education.

  • Upon request of the USDOE, provide a list of institutions approved to operate in the state by name.

  • Maintain a process to review and address complaints from students attending institutions approved to operate in that state.

Requirements for Institutions
  • Comply with any applicable state approval or licensure requirements in each state in which it 'operates' and be approved by that state by name.

  • Provide its students and prospective students with contact information for filing complaints with its accrediting agency and with the appropriate state agency.

  • Federal institutions - meet provisions if authorized by name by the Federal Government. (Note: This implies an institution established by the Federal Government, not land grant institutions.)

  • Tribal institutions - meet provisions if authorized by name by the tribal government.

  • Religious institutions - if qualify as a religious institution, exempt from these requirements. (Note: A religious institution is defined as an institution that is owned, controlled, operated, and maintained by a religious organization and awards only religious degrees or certificates).



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