Colleges and universities have traditionally been accountable to our states, accrediting organizations, and most importantly to students and parents. Post-secondary schools attempt to provide quality educational programs to students to meet a variety of needs and workforce demands.
The new federal authorization regulation trumps previous state laws and requires that a school be licensed if just one online student lives in that state. For most educational institutions that means registering with many different states with different rules and laws, regardless if only one student from that state attends an institution. Fees to register in a state can range from $1,000 to up to $40,000 per state. Because of these high costs, schools may be forced to limit student enrollment to specific states or register in all fifty states to ensure compliance. These new regulations will have the heaviest burden on smaller colleges and universities that do not have the resources to comply with this new online rule.
Several higher education institutions located in my district in Ohio will be negatively impacted by this new state authorization requirement. Ohio Christian University (OCU) is located in Pickaway County, a rural county where only 11 percent of adults have a bachelor’s degree. OCU’s program has the goal of increasing that percentage to 20 percent – a critical goal given by a recent Georgetown University study that estimated by 2018 there will be 3 million less college graduates than the market will require. OCU currently has over 1,000 students from 15 states enrolled in its online program. Another public university, Wright State University has students from over 33 states enrolled in its online program. Clark State Community College (CSCC) has an enrollment of over 5,000 students, 40 percent of whom take at least one online course during their degree. If these schools are required to be licensed in every state where a student lives, they will be forced to choose between cutting student enrollment or paying exorbitant compliance costs – both options will limit student access to higher education.
While the state authorization requirements pose one problem, the credit hour regulation creates another by limiting innovative and cutting edge educational programs. These programs, such as externships, training programs, and similar courses, teach students the necessary employable skills and knowledge that employers desire from future employees. The credit hour regulation creates a huge unknown for schools creating these innovative educational programs that may not necessarily be easily interpreted into a traditional credit hour. As a result, schools may be forced to end online courses due to the uncertainty of being in full compliance with this new rule.
The credit hour regulation may also penalize adult learners who return later in life to earn their degree. The new credit hour definition will prohibit prior learning credit hours, which could be a significant hindrance for older students, and further reduce the number of college graduates.
Acknowledging that older students often have other skills and real life experiences that form a strong foundation for their education, several schools offer limited credit hours for prior learning. Both OCU and CSCC offer these prior learning credit hours, with the main goal of incentivizing older students to return to school and earn their degree.
While we must ensure accountability and that schools that have acted in bad faith are dealt with accordingly, the credit hour and state licensing regulations seem to be an overreaction with vast consequences for many smaller schools that are acting responsibly. Recent legislation, H.R. 2117, removed these bureaucratic barriers to higher education. We must promote an educational system that increases access to higher education with graduates who are ready and able to meet the stringent needs of employers.