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Distance Learning

Federal Government Seeks to Regulate Online Education Programs

The Education Department’s latest proposal sets forth several federal requirements for colleges and universities that offer distance education programs.

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) last week released a new proposal that clarifies what universities and colleges offering distance education programs must do to receive federal student aid funds. The proposed regulations also respond to state and federal oversight of U.S. institutions operating in foreign locations worldwide.

Under the current Higher Education Act, institutions must be authorized in the state in which they are located in order to be eligible for Title IV federal student aid. However, there are no federal requirements for distance education providers in states where the college or university is not located. Calling the lack of federal requirements for out-of-state students a “loophole,” the ED proposed regulations to improve oversight and protect more than 5.5 million distance education students in the country.

The proposal requires distance education providers to follow state authorization laws in states where they are not located. In addition, states must have a process for reviewing student complaints about distance education programs. The proposed rules also require foreign branch locations to be authorized by the appropriate foreign government agency, approved by an accrediting agency and reported to the state where the where the main campus is located.

"These proposed regulations achieve an important balance between accountability and flexibility, and in so doing create better protections for students and taxpayers," said Ted Mitchell, U.S. under secretary of education, in a statement. "Additionally, these regulations promote and clarify state authorization procedures, further strengthening the integrity of federal financial aid programs."

The ED’s proposal was published on Monday on the Federal Register site. The public comment period will end Aug. 24 and the final version will be published by the end of the year.

About the Author

Sri Ravipati is Web producer for THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at [email protected].

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