Nonprofit and Public College and University Presidents Offer U.S. Senate Guidance on Redefining Distance Education
The presidents of seven private not-for-profit and public colleges and universities issued a joint letter today to Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) to offer guidance as the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) revisits distance education requirements within the Higher Education Act.
As the letter states, ‘federal regulations have been slow to keep up with advancing technology and innovations within the online learning sector. As a result, distance education is staring down an uncertain future – its long-term viability threatened by obsolete standards regarding “regular and substantive interaction” within federal statute…We are confident the following revisions, which resulted from a collaborative effort of the undersigned to balance the needs of public and private institutions with adequate student and taxpayer protections, meet these obligations.’
The presidents of Excelsior College, Arizona State University, Charter Oak State College, Colorado State University – Global Campus, Ivy Tech Community College, Southern New Hampshire University, and Western Governors University, recommend a new definition of Distance Education, a revision to the definition of Correspondence course, standardized outcomes data at the institutional level and for each program of student.
February 20, 2018
The Honorable Lamar Alexander
United States Senate
Chair, U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions
455 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
The Honorable Patty Murray
United States Senate
Ranking Member, U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions
154 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Senator Alexander and Senator Murray,
We, the undersigned presidents of private not-for-profit and public colleges and universities across the nation, write to you to respectfully offer guidance as you revisit the distance education requirements within the Higher Education Act.
Over the past decade, higher education institutions of all sizes and status have embraced distance education/online learning as an innovative long-term strategy to meet student needs, deliver a more flexible, cost-effective form of academic instruction, and advance the Completion Agenda. Today, distance education has become a ubiquitous component of contemporary higher education with more than six million students taking at least one course at a distance .
Unfortunately, with the Higher Education Act last updated in 2008, federal regulations have been slow to keep up with advancing technology and innovations within the online learning sector. As a result, distance education is staring down an uncertain future – its long-term viability threatened by obsolete standards regarding “regular and substantive interaction” within federal statute. To create an environment open to sensible experimentation and that fosters innovations in products, programs, and services, Congress must revise the Higher Education Act accordingly.
Therefore, we are heartened by your desire to work in a bipartisan manner to draft a Senate reauthorization bill and your expressed openness to guidance on these provisions.
Republicans and Democrats share a commitment to increasing access, equity, affordability, and accountability, if by different means. We are confident the following revisions, which resulted from a collaborative effort of the undersigned to balance the needs of public and private institutions with adequate student and taxpayer protections, meet these obligations.
We encourage replacing the current definition of Distance Education with the following:
Distance Education: Except as otherwise provided, the term “distance education” means education that provides students who are not in a physical classroom with substantive interaction, including, but not limited to, instruction, assessment, mentoring/advising, and learning support, enabled by ready access to qualified faculty, monitoring of student progress, and active intervention.
We recommend the following revision to the definition of Correspondence Course:
Correspondence Course: (1) A course provided by an institution under which the institution provides instructional materials, by mail or electronic transmission, including examinations on the materials, to students who are separated from the instructor. Interaction between the instructor and student and academic support, including access to qualified faculty, is limited, is not regular and substantive, and is primarily initiated by the student. Correspondence courses are typically self-paced and self-taught.
(2) If a course is part correspondence and part residential training, the Secretary considers the course to be a correspondence course.
(3) A correspondence course is not distance education.
Additionally, to enhance the ability of students to make informed decisions when choosing an educational provider, we recommend standardizing outcomes data at the institutional level and for each program of study:
Transparency: Make transparent outcomes data available by program at the undergraduate and master’s level for the following; (1) 100% and 150% graduation rates. (2) One-year retention rate. (3) Average annual cost for full-time attendance, broken out by tuition, fees, and living costs. (4) Federal student debt from tuition and fees.
The Higher Education Act serves as the single most important federal means to increase the capacity of low- and middle-income individuals to finance a post-secondary education. The Senate stands on the cusp of a historic opportunity. As you begin drafting the reauthorization bill, we strongly encourage you to consider these new and revised definitions.
Please contact us with any questions.
Dr. James N. Baldwin, President, Excelsior College
Dr. Michael M. Crow, President, Arizona State University
Dr. Sue Ellspermann, President, Ivy Tech Community College
Ed Klonoski, President, Charter Oak State College
Dr. Paul J. LeBlanc, President, Southern New Hampshire University
Scott D. Pulsipher, President, Western Governors University
Dr. Becky Takeda-Tinker, President, Colorado State University – Global Campus
 Digital Learning Compass, ‘Distance Education Enrollment Report 2017,’ https://onlinelearningsurvey.com/reports/digtiallearningcompassenrollment2017.pdf