Unlocking the Power of Online Education

E-newsletter Issue #88 | March 15, 2012

A compact in the works could unlock the power of online education by connecting more students to the degrees they need, even when that instruction is delivered across state lines. Currently, institutions with limited budgets face a patchwork of regulatory hurdles when it comes to offering their curricula in other states, which is preventing many students from acquiring the skills they need because institutions are avoiding the approval processes in the states.

Issue experts and state leaders recently met at the Lumina Foundation to discuss an early draft of a model compact that would establish reciprocal agreements that will make the regulatory process more efficient. The compact would function as a contract between states.

“While considerable work still remains, (the compact) has the potential to save states and institutions time, effort and money, while supporting academic quality,” said Marshall Hill, executive director of the Nebraska Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education, a member of the Interstate Reciprocity Compact Drafting Team.  

Alan Contreras, a consultant to the compact project and former administrator in the Office of Degree Authorization at the Oregon Student Assistance Commission, said reciprocity in higher education will allow the states to take advantage of the benefits rapid advancements in information technology can bring to education. 

“Today, with so many colleges operating across state lines, the need has never been greater,” he said. “If a state could be certain that another state was doing a good job of enforcement of key standards, it should be willing to allow a college based in that ‘home’ state to operate in other states without going through every state’s detailed and expensive evaluation process.”  

Creating this cooperative environment among states could substantially reduce expensive redundancies and inefficiencies for institutions and the states by establishing greater reciprocity and consistency. Such an environment also could, by lowering the costs of interstate operation to institutions and therefore students, improve access to online education for students across the nation.

The drafting team will hold several conference calls to discuss the next version of the draft and will reconvene in April. Members hope to have a model compact complete by the end of this year for introduction in the 2013 legislative sessions.

“I applaud CSG and the Presidents’ Forum for their continued leadership of this effort and look forward to continuing this important policy discussion,” said George Roedler of the Minnesota Office of Higher Education. “This compact represents an important step toward developing uniformity in distance education.”

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