Federal Regulations Require State Authorization for Distance Education Programs

In October 2010, the federal Department of Education issued State Authorization Regulations for Distance Learning, as a remedy to curtail federal student financial aid abuses. The regulations, effective July 1, 2011, stipulate that institutions offering distance education programs beyond its state borders, must also:

  1. Be approved by the states, outside of their own, in which it is operating, and
  2. Be able to document the approval of a given state

Non-compliance with these regulations would affect institutional eligibility to participate in federal student aid programs.

The concern for Ohio State and other private institutions is echoed in the following statement from the US Senate Education Committee, "… we are concerned that other states could choose to use these regulations as an excuse to become deeply involved in setting course requirements, quality measures, faculty qualifications, and various mandates about how and what to teach.” *

Colleges and universities further criticize the new rules, stating that they will make it more difficult for online educators to operate across state lines and as well as burden them with the added cost of sifting through 50 separate state statutes and filing multiple applications. While the Higher Education Act states that, colleges must be legally authorized to provide postsecondary education in every state where they operate,” the law does not specify how states should approve colleges, leaving it to state lawmakers and administrators to set their own standards for approval.*

Ohio State’s Assistant Vice President for Government Affairs and director of Ohio State’s Washington office, Stacy Rastauskas, is actively working with consortia, including the American Council on Education (ACE) and the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU), to make sure our interests are represented for this issue.  The ACE’s and APLU’s initial steps include reaching out to U.S. Department of Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, with a signed statement from 50 national higher education associations, requesting that the regulation be rescinded.

Additionally, Ohio State's Bobby Moser, Vice President of Agricultural Administration and Dean of FAES (College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences) is also providing strong leadership in this matter through his work with the American Distance Education Consortium (ADEC), to create a state regulations inventory in an effort to decrease the burden to states. The inventory will assist institutions in finding and complying with the new rules by providing a starting point for determining which specific states, if any, need to have approval secured. It is known that the U.S. Department of Education will not provide a comprehensive state-by-state list and ADEC-member institutions will need this information as soon as possible to meet the July 1 deadline.

OCIO continues to work with the Office of Government Affairs to stay apprised of changes with the Distance Learning State Authorization Regulations issue while also providing expertise and data to help determine alternative strategies should the regulations not be rescinded. Additionally, the Ohio Learning Network is preparing to implement a statewide process to gather state authorizations should the federal regulations be implemented as issued. As of March 17, the Department of Education distributed additional guidelines clarifying three areas of the regulations (covering: state authorization, incentive compensation and misrepresentation) to help institutions further understand the changes being made.

*Works cited:

Field, Kelly. “State-Oversight Rule Draws Protests From Colleges and Congress”, The Chronicle of Higher Education. 12/15/10.


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