Rules Clarify State Oversight of Online Universities

The Department of Education proposed regulations to make sure institutions that offer online education are monitored and legally authorized by states. There are more than 5.5 million distance education students, and almost 3 million exclusively online students the department is hoping to protect by improving oversight.

“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, the U.S. under secretary of education. “Additionally, these regulations promote and clarify state authorization procedures, further strengthening the integrity of Federal financial aid programs.”

Under the Higher Education Opportunity Act, institutions are required to be legally authorized by states in order to participate in financial aid programs. Receiving student financial aid as an institution has also been tied to cybersecurity compliance.

The proposed regulations include the following:

  • Institutions that offer distance education must be authorized by each state in which the student enrolls.
  • Any student complaints regarding distance education that are resolved must be documented.
  • Public and individualized disclosures to students in the distance education program.
  • Foreign branch courses must be authorized by the appropriate foreign government agency.

The proposed regulations are available for comment until Aug. 24 through the Federal Register. The department hopes to finalize by the end of the year.

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