Final Rules on State Authorization of Distance Education Become Effective July 1, 2018

By Jill Desjean, Policy & Federal Relations Staff

In December 2016, the Department of Education (ED) published final rules relating to state authorization of distance education. Master calendar requirements in the Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA), as amended, forced the effective date of these final rules to July 1, 2018, since regulations must be published by November 1 in order to become effective the following July. With just five months until schools must comply with these regulations, we are revisiting the provisions included in the final rule.

Summary of the Major Provisions

The final regulations will:

  • Consider institutions offering distance education programs or correspondence courses in states participating in state authorization reciprocity agreements to have met the legal requirements for offering postsecondary education in those states.

  • Require institutions providing distance education or correspondence courses to document that there is a state process for review and appropriate action on student complaints for each state where the institution enrolls students or, where applicable, via reciprocity agreement.

  • Require institutions that offer at least 50 percent of an educational program at an additional location or branch campus in a foreign country to obtain legal authorization to operate from an appropriate government authority in that country. U.S. military bases, facilities, and areas the foreign country has granted the U.S. military to use are exempt.

  • Add 11 new disclosures for programs offered solely through distance education. The disclosures relate to consumer protection and include:

    • State processes for consumer complaints.

    • State refund policies.

    • Adverse actions by states or accrediting agencies.

    • For programs intended to prepare students for licensure or certification in a certain field, information about whether the program offers the prerequisites for said licensure or certification in the state the student resides.

The final rule’s release date made it eligible for repeal in early 2017 under the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which provides an opportunity for a new session of Congress to rescind regulations published at the end of the previous session with a majority vote. Ultimately, Congress did not repeal the rule under the CRA.

The PROSPER Act, which passed out of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on Dec. 13, 2017, and is currently awaiting consideration by the full House of Representatives, repeals both these final rules as well as the state authorization final rules published on Oct. 29, 2010. Further, PROSPER prohibits any future regulation of state authorization by the ED.

ED is expected to publish a Dear Colleague Letter containing guidance for implementing the new regulations in May.

For more on the new regulations and changes from the existing rule, see our previous coverage.


Publication Date: 2/8/2018

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