MIT Joins Leaders in Online Education in Submitting Comments to the Department of Education on Proposed Regulations for Distance Education

October 2016

MIT submitted comments to the DOE in response to a new set of proposed federal regulations for distance education.

Together with thirteen other leaders in online education initiatives, MIT recently submitted comments to the Department of Education in response to a new set of proposed federal regulations for distance education.   The purpose of the proposed regulations is to provide oversight and consumer protection for the more than 5.5 million distance education students across the United States.

The proposed regulations have four new requirements for distance education programs:  (1) institutions offering distance education must be authorized by each state in which the institution enrolls students, if such authorization is required by the state; (2) institutions must maintain a written set of procedures for resolving student complaints specifically for distance education programs; (3) institutions must provide public and individualized disclosures to enrolled and prospective students, including statistics regarding adverse actions taken against the school, the school’s refund policies, and whether each program offered by the school meets applicable state licensure requirements; and (4) a requirement that all foreign branch campuses or locations be authorized by the appropriate foreign government agency. 

Joined by Boston University, Columbia, Duke, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, NYU, Stanford, University of California, Penn, University of Texas, Vanderbilt, Wellesley, and Yale, MIT provided comments on the proposed regulations focusing on the following concerns:

  1. The new regulations would condition the receipt of federal financial aid on an institution’s compliance with state authorization laws even with respect to programs that do not charge fees or receive such federal aid (e.g., MOOCS, SPOCs, certificate programs);
  2. The regulations would require institutions to demonstrate that each state in which they offer distance education has a process to review and process student complaints and demonstrate compliance with such processes even where such processes are in conflict with the procedures in the institution’s home state;
  3. The Department of Education lacks  authority to impose regulations on the activities of institutions of higher education for activities in jurisdictions entirely outside the United States; and
  4. The new regulations would impose an undue burden and expense on institutions to research and disclose each state’s refund policies, educational prerequisites, and licensure requirements.

The comments also highlight some of the possible, unintended consequences of the proposed regulations, such as the fact that some institutions may elect to exclude students outside of the institution’s home state in their educational programming.  Also, the new regulations may force students to rely on the offerings of for profit education providers who are better equipped to absorb the additional costs of regulatory compliance by charging increased fees to students. 

The Department of Education must respond to all comments and is expected to publish the final regulations by October 31, 2016.  The regulations will take effect in July 2017.  For more information, please contact Jason Baletsa at 617.253.4466 or jbaletsa@mit.edu