Three Influential Online And Higher Ed Organizations Issue Recommendations For Re-authorization Of The Higher Education Act

January 12, 2016
Representing more than 1,000 higher education institutions, OLC, UPCEA and WCET offer guiding principles for evolving the HEA for 21st Century learners.

WASHINGTON, DC – As Congress reviews the re-authorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA), three leading online and higher education organizations have come together to offer recommendations and champion the interests of contemporary learners. Today the Online Learning Consortium (OLC), the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA) and the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET) announced recommendations for Congress to consider as it readies for HEA re-authorization.

Together, OLC, UPCEA and WCET represent more than 1,000 higher education institutions throughout the United States, whose members have long been leaders in the innovative use of technologies to increase access and improve educational outcomes.

“Contemporary learners constitute 85 percent of today’s learners,”* said Robert Hansen, CEO, UPCEA. “Our coalition is dedicated to advocating for advancing access, innovation, and creative solutions to help realign federal policy with the current higher education landscape.”

“The current system was established over 50 years ago, when the typical student was ‘college-aged’ and full-time,” said Karen Pedersen, Ph.D., chief knowledge officer, OLC. “Today’s learners are people you know – working adults, single parents, military personnel and their families, veterans, caregivers, farm families, and others. For them, classroom-based learning creates enormous challenges of time, access, and cost.”

“Current law and regulation trail innovation,” said Russ Poulin, director, policy and analysis, WCET. “While technology-mediated education greatly expands opportunities in higher education, the current federal regulatory system was designed for the traditional students of the past who were educated in a static setting that is very different from the reality experienced by the vast majority of post-secondary students today.”

UPCEA, OLC and WCET and the member institutions they represent suggest the following guiding principles for Congress when considering current laws and regulations in the use of educational technologies, either at a distance or in the traditional classroom:

  • Fairness. Provide equal access to Federal financial aid for students learning at a distance or via innovative methods (including but not limited to competency-based education and adaptive learning) as for “traditional” students.
  • Innovation. Rules grounded in the traditional classroom hinder advancements. Since innovations will continue to emerge among higher education institutions, consider authorizing particular innovations in the HEA itself and allow greater flexibility in statute for the Department of Education to waive rules or conduct further “experimental” or “demonstration” projects to help incubate future innovations.
  • Accountability. Holding colleges to standards for student performance and protection of financial aid funds need not add to the burden of over-regulation. This balanced approach to any new laws and regulations should be narrowly tailored to address specific needs.

INFOGRAPHIC: The Changing Face of Higher Education

The coalition has produced an infographic that illustrates 50-plus years of evolution in higher education (1965 through 2016), compelling the need to evolve the Higher Education Act for the 21st Century learner. The infographic and supporting information for the coalition’s guiding principles are available online at

* Source: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics. Choy, S. Non-traditional undergraduates. Washington, DC

UPCEA is the association for leaders in professional, continuing, and online education. Founded in 1915, UPCEA now serves more than 400 institutions, including most of the leading public and private colleges and universities in North America. For 100 years, the association has served its members with innovative conferences and specialty seminars, research and benchmarking information, professional networking opportunities and timely publications. Based in Washington, D.C., UPCEA also builds greater awareness of the vital link between contemporary learners and public policy issues. Visit for more information.

About WCET
The WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET) is the leader in the practice, policy, and advocacy of technology-enhanced learning in higher education.  WCET is an unbiased, trusted and dynamic source of effective practices, policy analysis, advocacy, and expertise in areas related to leveraging learning technologies to support institutional effectiveness and student success. Connect with WCET –

About OLC
The Online Learning Consortium (OLC) is the leading professional organization devoted to advancing the quality of online learning worldwide. The member-sustained organization offers an extensive set of resources for professional development and institutional advancement of online learning, including, original research, leading-edge instruction (e.g., workshops, certificates), best-practice publications, community-driven webinars and conferences, research-into-practice tools and resources as well as expert guidance. OLC members include mid-and senior level administrators, faculty members, trainers and other online learning professionals, as well as educational institutions, professional societies and corporate enterprises. OLC is a virtual organization with headquarters in Newburyport, Mass. Visit for more information.

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