The Department of Education is revisiting a fight it lost in 2012: to make states authorize every distance education provider that enrolls students within their borders. Ever since a federal judge struck down this requirement on procedural grounds, states have been able to exempt online programs from the authorization process as long as they are accredited somewhere else. If the Department of Education wins this fight, this would change. And if distance education programs aren’t locally authorized or exempted from the requirement, their students won’t receive federal student aid.A North Dakota official spoke to Inside Higher Ed:
“The intentions are good, but the practical implications of the proposed changes are going to wreak havoc on many state regulators and institutions and ultimately students,” said Tanya Spilovoy, director of distance education and state authorization at the North Dakota University System. […]Poulin estimated that “easily over half the states are going to have to change their laws or regulations to do something to replace the exemption and come up with processes to implement the authorization review process.”
Many states don’t have the manpower—or the funding—necessary to deal with this regulatory burden. And the real losers will be students, who should be able to enroll in the best and cheapest programs no matter where they live. Some of the most promising developments in higher education are taking place online, from degree-granting programs to MOOCs, and the Department of Education shouldn’t impose regulatory burdens that will discourage innovation in this sector. Let’s not run the internet like a toll road: we don’t want to see online education stopped at state borders.