Government Affairs

Distance Education and State Authorization Negotiated Rulemaking Begins | Policy Matters (January 2024)

January 31, 2024

Major Updates

Negotiated Rulemaking Session on Program Integrity and Institutional Quality Begins 

The U.S. Department of Education has started a Negotiated Rulemaking Session focused on Program Integrity and Institutional Quality. The first session took place January 8–11. The second session will occur from February 5–8, and the final session is scheduled for March 4–7. These sessions will delve into pivotal areas of higher education regulation on the following topics State Authorization, Distance Education, Return to Title IV, Cash Management, and Accreditation, among others which can be found under the “Materials” section on the Department’s Negotiated Rulemaking site. A TRIO Subcommittee meeting also occurred January 12 and is slated for February 9. The Department has released their second round of issue papers on their Negotiated Rulemaking site (linked via the topics above). Some notable suggestions the Department has proposed to change in regulation which are relevant to the UPCEA community are: 

  • Accreditation changes including:
    • Requiring institutional accreditor approval if the institution adds any non-degree or degree-granting program at a level not previously offered by the institution
    • Requiring institutional accreditor approval if the program that the agency has previously approved to operate achieves or exceeds a 50 percent threshold for distance education offerings (means that at least 50 percent of the institution’s students are enrolled in at least one course offered through distance education; or offers at least 50 percent of its courses through distance education.)
    • Requiring accreditors to visit and approve all physical and branch campus locations of an institution.
  • State Authorization alterations including: 
    • Requiring reciprocity agreements to require institutions to have a system to report student complaints to the State in which the student resides, and to provide those complaints to the organizations that administer the agreement.
    • Requiring State authorization reciprocity agreements governing boards only include representation from State employees – including regulatory bodies, enforcement agencies, attorneys general, and licensing bodies – and members of the public.
    • Allowing that, outside of educational authorization, for reciprocity agreements to not prohibit states to apply general education laws to institutions.

  • Distance Education alterations including:
    • Removing the allowance for clock-hour programs provided via distance education to be offered through asynchronous learning.
    • Creating a virtual location for institutions that includes all students who are being instructed primarily through distance education.
    • Specifying in the definition of “a week of instructional time” that asynchronous coursework via distance education is limited to credit-hour programs.
    • Requiring schools to take attendance for fully distance education courses for purposes of Return to Title IV. During the first rulemaking session, the Department clarified that for fully distance education students, merely logging in is not a form of academic attendance, but would need to be paired with some sort of other activity. They also clarified that for those programs that are hybrid, they would not require all in-person courses related to this provision to be attendance-taking.

  • Other changes including: 
    • Eliminating the provision allowing institutions to include the cost of books and supplies as part of tuition and fees, unless there is a compelling health or safety reason to do so. This change could impact “inclusive access”. Current regulations permit schools to automatically charge students for books and supplies as part of tuition and fees, without student authorization, even when the materials can be obtained from a source other than the institution. The regulations permit these charges if the school has a contract with a third-party publisher or retailer, offers the books “below competitive market rates,” and gives students a way to opt out, so long as the student can obtain the books and supplies by the seventh day of the payment period. 


These proposals represent the Department’s suggested regulatory edits, which negotiators will scrutinize and potentially revise over the next two sessions. Each day of the full committee sessions will conclude with a 30-minute public comment period, with the exception of the final day. The subcommittee sessions, however, will not include a public comment segment. Interested parties wishing to provide public comments are advised to email [email protected] with their name and organizational affiliation, indicating their desire to participate in these crucial discussions. Registration is required to view the virtual sessions, and links to this registration, a list of the negotiators, and other resources are included below. 


UPCEA Policy Matters: Primers and Insights Launched with Intro to Online Regulatory Landscape and Overview of Negotiated Rulemaking

We are excited to introduce our latest resources, “Policy Matters: Primers and Insights,” designed to guide you through the complex policy frameworks crucial to higher education in the United States. In an era where online and professional continuing education programs are at the forefront of educational innovation, understanding the regulatory landscape is vital. “Policy Matters: Primers and Insights” offers a comprehensive introduction to foundational topics in federal legislation and regulations that have a significant impact on online and professional continuing education. This series is more than just a resource; it’s a roadmap to navigating the intricacies of policy that govern higher education. Whether you’re an administrator, educator, or policy maker, these insights will empower you to make informed decisions and contribute to the long-term success of your programs.

Our first two Primers and Insights are:

Stay ahead in the dynamic world of higher education. Embrace the opportunity to deepen your understanding of the policies shaping our programs and institutions. Learn more.



Upcoming Policy Webinars


  • February 21, 2024 | 2:00-3:00 PM ET
    Webinar | Navigating Regulatory Changes in Higher Education
    Hosted by the UPCEA Policy Committee + Online Administration Network
    Join us for a session focusing on the latest regulatory changes impacting online and professional continuing education taking effect July 1, 2024. This event will address key areas such as licensure notifications, financial responsibility standards, administrative capability, certification processes, and updated gainful employment guidelines. A quick update on current U.S. Department of Education negotiated rulemaking sessions focused on state authorization, distance education, and accreditation, as well as consideration of the regulatory landscape generally, will also be provided.

    The target audience for the webinar: academic leaders, administrators, and legal and compliance officers. The information offered will allow institutions to prepare for significant regulatory changes that will impact online education.

Other News

Policy Matters: Primers and Insights
Helping you navigate policy frameworks critical to higher education in the United States.

Access our resources providing an introduction to foundational topics in federal legislation and regulations impacting online and professional continuing education for universities and colleges. Read more.

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UPCEA Policy Committee

Kristen Brown, University of Louisville, Chair
Mark Bernhard, North Carolina State University
Frank Principe, University of Maryland Global Campus
Ricky LaFosse, University of Michigan
George Irvine, University of Delaware
Stephanie Landregan, University of California, Los Angeles
Abram Hedtke, St. Cloud State University
Debra Iles, Harvard University


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