Dr. Russ Poulin served on the subcommittee on the recent federal Negotiated Rulemaking (Neg Reg) negotiations where he had the opportunity to provide input on recommendations that were voted on by the full committee. He was recently promoted to be the Executive Director of WCET.

In this podcast, he discusses some of the decisions that came out of the Neg Reg and were published.

Tying Federal Financial Aid to State Service

Neg Reg 2019 solidified the state authorization that ties federal financial aid to the institution that has the approval of the state where it is serving students. Some institutions were hesitating in complying with state authorization and were waiting for this tie to federal financial aid. Now, these institutions need to get those approvals in the states where they serve students.

One of the ways to get the necessary approval is through reciprocity provided by the National Council of State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (NC-SARA). In addition, there is a new controversial definition of reciprocity. Previously, there was language that made it seem like a state could enforce any rule that it wanted to as part of reciprocity. However, it isn’t reciprocity if everyone is enforcing the previous rules. 

An institution that is a member or participant in NC-SARA is now further down the road in being compliant in this area. This should bode well for institutions in most states.

However, there currently is little protection offered California students who are taking classes at out-of-state non-profit or public institutions at a distance. California does have a complaint process, but provides little else in protection for these students.

Changes in Accreditation

The Neg Reg strengthened the triad of federal, state and accreditation bodies.  One of the changes lead removes any differentiation between regional and national accreditors. Instead, there will be just institutional accrediting bodies. The impact of this decision is still to be determined , but one outcome of this change could potentially remedy the situation in which a regional university will not accept transfer credits from a nationally accredited university.

In addition, regionals can now accredit any institution in any state. It will be interesting to see how the accrediting bodies react to this change, as well as how the department will do as far as oversight or pushing this policy forward.

Distance Education

There is a slight change in the definition of student identity in distance education. The idea all along has been that the institution needed to ensure that the student who registers for a course is the one who is taking the assessments. Previously, institutions used specific passwords, face-to-face proctoring or other types of electronic monitoring. The change requires the accreditors to work with the institutions to see what is really working and what evidence shows that it’s working.

While discussed in the Neg Reg negotiations, defining “substantial interaction” did not come out in the published package. However, this issue has led to additional discussions. The definition of distance education that was last updated in 1992 offered a specific definition of regular and substantive interaction. As time has passed, this definition has become outdated and needs to be redefined in a functional way for institutions to know what to do. Much of this was sparked because of competency-based education, which is based on when the student achieves a competency on their own timeline (instead of on a set schedule).

Continued discussions agree that there should be interaction, but the initial definition only mentioned the faculty member; that is only one perspective so that doesn’t constitute interaction. There’s since been progress in updating and the proposed changes should come out for comment soon. This also will give accreditors the flexibility to allow for some innovation currently happening or that which will emerge in the future. Additionally, the accreditor gets leeway as long as student outcomes are being properly supported.

In addition, there have been discussions about substantial interaction and correspondence courses as well as content-based education vs. credit hour as a measure for learning. Interaction is important; however, the interaction needs to be considered in multiple ways between faculty, students and content. For example, Western Governor’s University has an unbundled faculty model which uses a faculty member doing assessment that is different from the faculty member doing the teaching.

Degrees with Licensure

The state authorization recommendations also address degree programs that lead to state licensure, such as nursing, psychology and teaching. In the past, the regulation said if institutions were doing this at a distance, students who live in other states must be notified about whether the program fulfills the licensure requirements in their home state.

That requirement has not been fully implemented until recently. The recent changes expanded this requirement to include face-to-face programs as well as distance programs. This is something that presidents will need to look at across their entire institution. Additionally, institutions are required to make three types of statements:

  • The institution knows that that the degree program that is offered meets the requirements of a state.
  • The institution knows that the degree program does not meet the requirements of a state.
  • The institution was unable to make a determination.

Accreditation bodies also will have to look at how new or current programs meet the requirements of other states.

Still Needing Work

Areas including TEACH Act, religious-affiliated institutions, distance education, competency-based education and federal financial aid are being reconsidered and rebundled into two packages. The packaging around these areas will be determined on languaging and whether the issue fits with other parts of law. These new packages will be released for comments soon.

Three Takeaways:

Poulin suggested three take-aways for higher education leaders:

  • There are substantive changes around accreditation. Accreditors are going to have to figure these out and institutions should be watching.
  • State authorization is tied to federal aid.
  • The expansion of state licensure will have significant implications. Watch how this unfolds.

Bullet Points

  • Neg Reg 2019 solidified the state authorization that ties federal financial aid to the institution that has the approval of the state where it is serving students. Institutions can get the necessary approval through reciprocity provided by the National Council of State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (NC-SARA).
  • The Neg Reg, which strengthened the triad of federal, state and accreditation bodies, removes differentiation between regional and national accreditors. Instead, there will be just institutional accrediting bodies.
  • A change in relation to distance learning requires the accreditors to work with the institutions to see what is really working and what evidence shows that it’s working in relation to ensuring that the students who take class are the ones who are being assessed for their work.
  • Additionally, discussions about distance learning are ongoing in relation to regular and substantive interaction. These discussions are designed to bring the definition into alignment with current distance learning practice and where technology is allowing learning to go.
  • Institutions that offer degree programs that lead to state licensure, such as nursing, psychology and teaching must let students who participate at a distance from another state know that the program is in alignment with their home state’s licensure requirements.
  • Areas including TEACH Act, religious-affiliated institutions, distance education, competency-based education and federal financial aid are being reconsidered and rebundled into two packages that will be discussed in future Neg Reg discussions.

Links to Articles, Apps, or websites mentioned during the interview:

Guest Social Media Links: