ERIC Number: EJ935378
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2011-Jun-9
Reference Count: N/A
Unintended Consequences: An Uncertain Future for Distance Learning
Halfond, Jay A.
New England Journal of Higher Education, Jun 2011
While most in the academic community know about the attempt to rein in the for-profits, few are aware of its collateral damage. In October, the Department of Education (DOE) issued its Program Integrity Rules, intended to protect federal funds especially from those for-profit institutions with high student loan default rates. Well-intentioned though this was, the DOE dropped an inadvertent bombshell: All online programs without state-by-state approval to operate would risk losing their Title IV funds. The DOE had assumed that distance-learning programs routinely obtain state licensure in order to enroll students in that state. In fact, few institutions pay much attention to the home states of their online students--the very ubiquity of distance learning makes location irrelevant. This set off a barrage of national meetings and attempts to lobby the DOE to retract this ruling. But the DOE, assuming that this rule merely reinforced the "status quo," had boxed itself in, and couldn't now suggest state approval should not be required. For the first time, the federal government would be enforcing state higher education licensure--the equivalent of making jaywalking a federal offense. While the risks might be low, the stakes were high; no institution would ever want to jeopardize title IV funds. Thus, schools have begun to inquire of each state (and territory) what would be necessary to be certified so that local residents might be able to enroll online. Only a very few institutions (and these are mainly large for-profits) ever considered that they might need each state's approval in advance should someone from that state happened to join their online program. The barrier to entry has just been raised if not locked. This ruling potentially solidifies the market share of the big players and unleashes them to grow significantly--at the expense of potential competition. These state-by-state upfront costs just to launch an online program will be stifling if not prohibitive. New, innovative online programs from high-quality institutions are far less likely to emerge. The public will continue to be wary of the integrity of distance education if America's top institutions opt not to participate. Despite presidential rhetoric for increasing college completion rates, the administration has just made student access to quality higher learning all the more difficult and constrained the overall capacity of the nation's institutions.
Descriptors: Distance Education, Online Courses, Integrity, Loan Default, Federal Government, Higher Education, Proprietary Schools, Enrollment, Electronic Learning, Federal Legislation, Access to Education, Public Agencies, Education
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Opinion Papers; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: Higher Education
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Laws, Policies, & Programs: Higher Education Act Title IV