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Excelsior College To Research Need for Interstate Compact for Higher Ed Regs

Should states form an interstate compact to provide reciprocity for education that crosses state borders? That's the question at the heart of a new research initiative being undertaken by the Presidents' Forum, a consortium of 150 institutions that exchange knowledge regarding operation in an online environment. The forum is hosted by Excelsior College, a 35,000-student private, nonprofit school that offers only online courses.

Currently, according to the Presidents' Forum, regulatory and policy requirements for higher education vary significantly from state and state and tend to focus on the needs of traditional institutions that operate within their own borders. The Forum believes that laws and policies haven't kept pace with the growing use of online technology to deliver post-secondary education.

A fall 2009 Forum task force found that institutions operating across borders "are often confronted by duplicative and widely differing regulatory requirements," a "crazy quilt," as it was described in the task force's report. These requirements, "while functioning as an important gatekeeper to ensure that citizens will be protected from fraud and poor quality offerings, increasingly may act to inhibit student access to essential learning opportunities and at unnecessarily high cost."

For the latest research Excelsior will work with the Council of State Governments and others to determine the scope and nature of information that states require to validate credibility of online, out-of-state post-secondary programs. The work is being funded by a $300,000, two-year grant from the Lumina Foundation, a billion-dollar non-profit whose goal is to enroll and graduate more students from college.

Although the economic downturn has increased demand for online courses, reported Excelsior President John Ebersole, "Current regulatory practices present barriers that inhibit many opportunities for study and innovation."

The Forum will collaborate with the Council of State Governments to develop what it's calling a "model interstate compact," a common set of standards to govern online programs while still protecting consumers and encouraging people to pursue college degrees.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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