In Trust magazine preview

If your school teaches online, you must register in every state where your students live

By Sebastian Mahfood, O.P.

If you’re the institutional liaison with your state office of higher education, or with the Commission on Accrediting of the Association of Theological Schools (ATS), or with a regional accrediting agency, you know that there’s a deadline approaching: July 1, 2014.

If you have any kind of online presence that draws students from across state lines — and at least 112 ATS schools do! — then you should be prepared for it. (Not sure if your school has a comprehensive online degree program? Check the list at www.ats.edu/member-schools/member-school-distance-education).

The July 1 deadline refers to the State Authorization Requirement (otherwise known as 34 CFR §600.9(c)), which requires all institutions to be authorized by the state offices of higher education in all states where their students live. Though the federal law was vacated on June 5, 2012, the state regulations requiring authorization remain active. For this reason, institutions must “comply with any applicable state approval or licensure requirements in each state in which it ‘operates’ and be approved by that state by name,” according to the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education’s technology division, the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET). (For details, see www.wcet.wiche.edu/advance/state-approval.)

According to WCET, the United States Department of Education plans to enforce the regulation on July 1, 2014.

Important for boards to know
This news is important for the governing boards of theological colleges and seminaries because it directly affects an institution’s ability to keep its virtual doors open for business. A wise board will ask the school’s president right now whether the school will meet the federal deadline on July 1. If not, plans should be made to come into compliance with the new requirements immediately.

Compliance is administratively simple, but it requires some investment in time. Because different states have different triggers, the first step in this process is for a school to develop a policy for determining whether its practices trigger a need for state authorization in any given state. For example, a seminary having a physical presence in a state is a common trigger, but in 16 states, authorization may be required even for schools with no physical presence.

Each seminary that offers online courses should develop a policy and plan — if the triggers for any particular state are pulled, then the steps for complying with that state’s authorization requirements should be implemented without delay.

WCET provides some advice on how do this (see wcetblog.wordpress.com/2012/05/17/10-steps-to-begin-authorization/), but the most important advice is to communicate with applicable state regulators via email and then follow up with those regulators via phone if a response is not received in a reasonable period (about two weeks). In cases where no state trigger is tripped, schools should maintain in their files the documentation showing that they do not trip the trigger for those states.

For the email message that will be sent to each applicable state office of higher education, the school should create a standard format that includes the following elements:

  • The type of institution (e.g., not-for-profit).
  • The number of students served is (provide total number of students).
  • The number of students who reside in the state where authorization is being requested (provide total number of students who live in that state).
  • The types of programs offered (list all degree programs offered, both on-campus and online).
  • The institution’s status on common physical presence triggers:
    • Instruction in the state (e.g., “none — all instruction is done online”).
    • Recruiting in the state (e.g., “none — all recruiting is done via word of mouth or through national or web-based media advertising”).
    • Property in the state (e.g., “none — all institutional property remains in institution’s home state, and institutional data is stored in the cloud”).
    • Employment in the state (e.g., “faculty members within Distance Learning programs are home-based in a number of states, namely [list states]”).
    • Third-party contracts in the state (e.g., “none involving vendors in your state”).
    • Advertising in the state (e.g., “national media and the Internet; no advertising is done within local papers in your state”).
  • The institutional accreditation liaison officer’s complete contact information is [name, physical address, email address, phone].

Some penalties for non-compliance exist, as described by WCET (see wcet.wiche.edu/wcet/docs/state-approval/StateAuthorizationWCETTwo-pager09-17-13.pdf). In most cases, the first penalty is a cease-and-desist order and possibly a fine for operating without authorization. Because state agencies are reasonable, any given state office of higher education will likely first ask an institution operating within its borders to simply take the steps to become authorized and may also ask institutions to stop serving students who reside in their state until the institution has taken those steps.

Federally, the risk to the institution may be a loss of Title IV funding and the requirement to “reimburse federal financial aid funds for students in the noncompliant states.” WCET provides an important caveat here: “The U.S. DOE still requires institutions to notify students on where the institution is authorized and on where a student can file a complaint.”

An important legal note: If a student is not notified in advance that the school has not been authorized to operate in the student’s home state, it’s possible for that student to file suit against the noncompliant school. Finally, because accreditation is based, in part, on an institution’s meeting all state and federal laws, noncompliant institutions could find their accreditation in jeopardy.

Some help for schools is on the way. A State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA) promises to simplify the process of state authorization (see www.wiche.edu/sara for details on how institutions might benefit from this service). But while the authorization service is being set up, institutions should plan to work individually with each state office of higher education, and they should email this article to their accreditation liaison officer immediately after reading this.


About the author: Sebastian Mahfood, O.P., a lay member of the Dominican Order, is vice president of administration and associate professor of interdisciplinary studies at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut. He is also director of the Catholic Distance Learning Network in Arlington, Virginia, and serves on the board of trustees of Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis.


This article will appear in the Summer 2014 issue of In Trust magazine.



List of State Offices of Higher Education and Contact Persons


ALABAMA
Alabama Commission on Higher Education
Elizabeth C. French
Director
Alabama Commission on Higher Education
Office of Institutional Effectiveness and Planning
334-242-2179
elizabeth.french@ache.alabama.gov

ARIZONA
Arizona State Board for Private Postsecondary Education
Teri Stanfill
Executive Director
Arizona State Board for Private Postsecondary Education
602-542-2399
teri.stanfill@azppse.gov

CALIFORNIA
Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education
Laura N. Metune
Bureau Chief
Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education
916.431.6930
laura.metune@dca.ca.gov

COLORADO
Colorado Commission on Higher Education
Heather DeLange
Degree Authorization Act Officer
Colorado Department of Higher Education
303-866-2723
heather.delange@dhe.state.co.us

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
Education Licensure Commission
Robin Y. Jenkins
Executive Director
DC Education Licensure Commission
202-724-2095
robin.jenkins@dc.gov

FLORIDA
Commission for Independent Education
Sam Ferguson
Executive Director
Commission for Independent Education
850-245-3200
sam.ferguson@fldoe.org

GEORGIA
Nonpublic Postsecondary Education Commission
Carl G. Camann, Ph.D.
Deputy Director
Nonpublic Postsecondary Education Commission
770-414-3208
ccam@npec.state.ga.us

IDAHO
Idaho State Board of Education
Harvey W. Lyter III, MBA
State Coordinator for Private Colleges & Proprietary Schools
Office of the State Board of Education
208-332-1587
harv.lyter@osbe.idaho.gov

ILLINOIS
Illinois Board of Higher Education
Dan Cullen, Interim Director
Deputy Director for Academic Affairs and Student Success
Illinois Board of Higher Education
217-557-7350
Cullen@ibhe.org

INDIANA
Indiana Commission on Proprietary Education (ICOPE)
Ross Miller
Director
Indiana Commission on Proprietary Education
317-232-1324
rmiller@bpe.che.in.gov

IOWA
Iowa College Student Aid Commission
Carolyn Small
Postsecondary Registration Administrator
Iowa College Student Aid Commission
515-725-3413
carolyn.small@iowa.gov

KANSAS
Kansas Board of Regents
Jacqueline Johnson
Director of Private Postsecondary and Out-of-State Education
Kansas Board of Regents
785-296-4917
jjohnson@ksbor.org

KENTUCKY
Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education
Sarah Levy, J.D.
Director of Postsecondary Licensing
Council on Postsecondary Education
502.573.1555, ext. 350
sarah.levy@ky.gov

LOUISIANA
Academic Degree-Granting Institutions:
Larry Tremblay
Interim Deputy Commissioner for Academic and Student Affairs
Louisiana Board of Regents
225-342-4253
larry.tremblay@la.gov

MAINE
Maine Department of Education, Office of Higher Education
Harry W. Osgood
Higher Education Specialist
Maine Department of Education
Augusta, Maine 04333
207-624-6846
harry.osgood@maine.gov

MARYLAND
Maryland Higher Education Commission
Sue A. Blanshan
Director of Academic Affairs
Maryland Higher Education Commission
410-260-4533, 410-767-3268
sblansha@mhec.state.md.us

MASSACHUSETTS
Massachusetts Board of Higher Education
Shelley Tinkham, Ph.D.
Assistant Commissioner for Academic, K-16 and Veterans Policy
Massachusetts Department of Higher Education
617-994-6922
shelleytinkham@bhe.mass.edu

MICHIGAN
Michael Beamish
Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs
Bureau of Commercial Services
Licensing Division
517-241-6806
beamishm@michigan.gov

MINNESOTA
Minnesota Office of Higher Education
George R. Roedler, Jr., JD
Manager, Institutional Registration & Licensing
Minnesota Office of Higher Education
651-259-3975
george.roedler@state.mn.us

MISSOURI
Missouri Department of Higher Education
Leroy Wade
Assistant Commissioner
Missouri Department of Higher Education
573-751-2361
leroy.wade@dhe.mo.gov

NEBRASKA
Nebraska Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education
Kathleen Fimple
Academic Programs Officer
Nebraska’s Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education
402-471-0030
kathleen.fimple@nebraska.gov

NEW JERSEY
New Jersey Commission on Higher Education
Iris Duffield
Administrative Analyst
New Jersey Commission on Higher Education
609-292-2955
iduffield@che.state.nj.us

NEW MEXICO
New Mexico Higher Education Department
Stephanie A. Ellis
Private & Proprietary Schools Administrator
New Mexico Higher Education Department
505-476-8442
stephanie.ellis@state.nm.us

NEW YORK
New York State Department of Education, Office of College and University Evaluation
Ellen Zunon
Office of College and University Evaluation
New York State Department of Education
518-474-2593
ezunon@mail.nysed.gov

NORTH CAROLINA
The University of North Carolina Board of Governors
Maggie Ryan
Assistant Director of Licensure and Workforce Studies
The University of North Carolina General Administration
919-962-4558
mryan@northcarolina.edu

NORTH DAKOTA
North Dakota Department of Career and Technical Education
Debra Huber
Administrator
Educational Equity, Private Postsecondary Institutions, and Special Populations
North Dakota Department of Career and Technical Education
701-328-2678
dehuber@nd.gov

OHIO
Ohio Board of Regents
Shane DeGarmo
Director, Program Approval
The Ohio Board of Regents
614-387-1215
sdegarmo@regents.state.oh.us

OKLAHOMA
Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education
Gina M. Wekke
Assistant Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs
Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education
(405) 234-4300
gwekke@osrhe.edu

OREGON
Oregon Office of Degree Authorization
Jennifer Diallo
Academic Program Evaluator
Office of Degree Authorization
541-687-7478
jennifer.l.diallo@state.or.us

PENNSYLVANIA
Pennsylvania Department of Education
Michael Westover
Bureau Director
Bureau of Postsecondary and Adult Education
Pennsylvania Department of Education
717-783-6989
ra-distanceeducation@pa.gov

RHODE ISLAND
Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education
Deanna Velletri
Rhode Island Office of Higher Education
Academic and Student Affairs
401-456-6010
dvelletri@ribghe.org

TENNESSEE
Tennessee Higher Education Commission
Betty Dandridge-Johnson
Assistant Director of Regulatory Affairs for DPSA
Division of Postsecondary School Authorization (DPSA)
Tennessee Higher Education Commission
615-253-8874
Betty.Dandridge.Johnson@tn.gov

TEXAS
Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board
Van Davis
Special Projects Director
Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board
512-427-6223
van.davis@thecb.state.tx.us

UTAH
Utah Division of Consumer Protection
Marla Winegar
Administrator
Utah Division of Consumer Protection
801-530-6601
mwinegar@utah.gov

VERMONT
Vermont State Board of Education
Cathy Hilgendorf
Postsecondary Approval Coordinator
Vermont Department of Education
802-828-5402
cathy.hilgendorf@state.vt.us

VIRGINIA
State Council for Higher Education in Virginia
Linda H. Woodley
Director, Private & Out-of-State Postsecondary Education
State Council of Higher Education for Virginia
804-371-2938
lindawoodley@schev.edu
Sandra Freeman Sandrafreeman@schev.edu

WASHINGTON
Washington Higher Education Coordinating Board
Karen Oelschlager
Program Associate/Degree Authorization
Washington Higher Education Coordinating Board
360-753-7869
kareno@hecb.wa.gov

WEST VIRGINIA
West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission
Mark Stotler
Assistant Director of Academic Affairs
West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission
304-558-0262
stotler@hepc.wvnet.edu

WYOMING
Wyoming Department of Education
Elaine Marces
Interim Private School Program Manager
Wyoming Department of Education
307-777-6210
elaine.marces@wyo.gov

PUERTO RICO
Puerto Rico Council on Education
Judith Torres, PhD
Director, Licensing and Accreditation Division
Puerto Rico Council on Education
787-641-7100
ju_torres@ce.pr.gov
Carmen Berrios, Executive Director
cberrios@ce.pr.gov


Image credit: Matt Forster