Government Affairs

Neg Reg on State Authorization, Distance Ed, Accreditation and Other Topics Fails to Reach Consensus, ED to Write Significant Changes | Policy Matters (March 2024)

March 29, 2024

Major Updates

Negotiated Rulemaking Does Not Reach Consensus on Distance Education, State Authorization, Accreditation, and Other Topics

The recent session of negotiated rulemaking at the Department of Education on Program Integrity and Institutional Quality concluded without reaching a consensus on several pivotal Issue Papers. The discussions were marred by considerable disagreement on key topics such as revisions to Distance Education, State Authorization, and Accreditation protocols. There were a few topics which caused disagreement, including: the mandate for recording attendance in fully online courses to accurately determine withdrawal dates for virtual learners; the cash management change compelling institutions to adopt an “opt-in” approach rather than “opt-out” for students to approve bundling textbooks with tuition and fees—also known as “inclusive access”. There also was much disagreement about oversight of online education programs and the intricacies of state authorization changes, including concerns about reciprocity agreements, complaint processes, application of state laws related to closure and additional direct authorization thresholds, including a new 500 student threshold which would require direct authorization from any state where an institution enrolls more than 500 students in the two most recent years.

Given the impasse, the Department of Education now possesses the authority to draft proposed regulatory changes independently. This means the Department is likely to formulate and present its regulatory proposals for public scrutiny and comment within the next few months. This must be done before they evolve into final regulations, which if finalized before November 1 of this year, some may be implemented as soon as July 1, 2025. Ahead of this proposal being released, we encourage institutions to discuss these proposed changes and activities that occurred during negotiated rulemaking with their institutional government affairs offices. They may also consider talking with state officials as it relates to the state authorization proposals which could significantly impact how institutions deliver education across state lines, and how states would need to deal with authorization processes. View the negotiated rulemaking sessions and view the proposal papers.


Bipartisan Competency-Based Education Bill Introduced in House of Representatives
In a significant step towards reforming higher education, a bipartisan group of the House of Representatives, Glenn Grothman (R-WI), Brittany Pettersen (D-CO), and Burgess Owens (R-UT) have introduced the Empowering Learners Through Competency-Based Education Act. This bipartisan bill is designed to support universities in adopting competency-based education (CBE) models, which prioritize learning outcomes over traditional seat-time benchmarks. The bill would: define CBE programs; require the Department of Education to collect, verify, and make publicly available important program outcomes information on CBE programs; and establish a CBE demonstration project at the Department of Education to assist institutions in developing CBE programs. CBE allows students to advance upon mastering course material, potentially accelerating their path to degree completion and entry into the workforce with reduced debt burdens. The bill received endorsements from notable institutions like Western Governors University and Southern New Hampshire University’s Center for Higher Education Policy and Practice. Read more.


Gainful Employment/Financial Value Transparency Reporting Public Comment Due April 22

The Department of Education has opened a public comment period regarding the Gainful Employment/Financial Value Transparency reporting requirements. With a deadline of April 22, institutions, stakeholders, and the public are invited to provide feedback to the Department on these reporting requirements. This includes providing input on the Department’s data usage, and suggestions for minimizing reporting burdens. The regulations, negotiated in 2022 and finalized in 2023, are applicable to both gainful employment (GE) and non-GE programs. Engagement in this comment period is a vital opportunity for educational institutions to influence the development of policies that will shape a significant regulatory change which goes into effect July 1, 2024. Your input can help the Department understand and refine the collection process. Read more and submit a public comment here.

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.

UPCEA is a proud founding and steering committee member of the Today's Students Coalition.

UPCEA Policy Committee

Kristen Brown, University of Louisville, Chair
Bridget Beville, University of Phoenix
Corina Caraccioli, Loyola University New Orleans
Abram Hedtke, St. Cloud State University

George Irvine, University of Delaware
Rob Kerr, University of Illinois, Springfield
Craig Wilson, University of Arizona


Get Involved with UPCEA

Professional development isn't just about attending sessions. Get involved with UPCEA to meet members from other institutions, share the great work your institution is doing, and hone your own skills. From submitting a session proposal for a conference or an article for a publication to serving as a volunteer on a conference planning committee, there are as many ways to engage with us!


Awards of Excellence

Since 1953, UPCEA has recognized its members' outstanding contributions to the Association and the field, as well as their achievements in innovative programming, marketing and promotion, community development and services, research and publications, and many other areas.