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The Department of Education issued a second Dear Colleague letter (GEN-11-11) on April 20 responding to questions and concerns about its recent program integrity regulation on state authorization in the context of distance learning.

As NACUBO reported in the March 28, 2011 E-Bulletin, ED expanded a requirement that in order to be eligible to participate in the Title IV financial aid programs, institutions must be authorized by their state.  The new regulations were published October 29, 2010 and take effect on July 1, 2011. In the past, the regulations did not specify what it meant for an institution to be “authorized” by a state.  A “Dear Colleague” letter (GEN-11-05) providing supplemental guidance from the department appeared on March 17, 2011.

NACUBO recently joined several other higher education associations and accrediting organizations in a requesting a delay in implementation of the state authorization provision because of concerns about the ability of colleges and universities to comply with the state authorization requirements by July 1.   ED is committed to moving ahead with the planned July 1 implementation date, but in the terms outlined in the April 20 letter, will postpone enforcement of these regulations until July 1, 2014— if there are "good faith" efforts by institutions to comply. 

ED will consider the following items evidence of good faith efforts:

  • 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.

NACUBO urges institutions to diligently pursue compliance with the requirement.  While the April 20 letter provides some breathing room, it clear that ED is not providing wholesale delay in implementation of the new regulation.

In order to further assist both states and institutions with compliance, ED will be working with states to develop a comprehensive directory of state requirements. Once the directory is developed, ED plans to make it publicly available on the department's Web site.  In the Dear Colleague letter, ED also expresses its interest in working with institutions and associations to support states’ efforts to foster compliance.

On April 15, SHEEO, the National Association of State Higher Education Executive Officers, announced that it has plans to develop a directory of agencies and individuals responsible for implementing state quality assurance laws, as well as a compendium of state laws and regulations.  The directory will be developed in close cooperation with NCHEMS, the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems.

SHEEO reported that it will post the results of the survey on its Web site according the following schedule:

  • A comprehensive directory of all state regulatory agencies (within 30 days)
  • A compendium of general state rules and practices affecting distance education with clear guidance on jurisdiction (within 60 days)
  • A compendium of specific state rules and practices at a high level of detail including any differences in the treatment of degree, non-degree, levels of instruction, various professional fields, etc. (within 120 days)

At this time, it is unclear how ED’s  announcement, which was published after SHEEO’s, will impact the SHEEO and NCHEMS plan.


Liz Clark

Vice President, Policy and Research


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