Overview of State Authorization:
State authorization is a part of the U.S. Department of Education's recent amendments to the Higher Education act of 1965 (commonly referred to as the Program Integrity Rules (Oct. 2010)). The following is the most pertinent passage of the state authorization rule:
"If an institution is offering postsecondary education through distance or correspondence education to students in a State in which it is not physically located or in which it is otherwise subject to State jurisdiction as determined by the State, the institution must meet any State requirements for it to be legally offering postsecondary distance or correspondence education in that State. An institution must be able to document to the Secretary the State's approval upon request" (Authority: 20 U.S.C. 1001 and 1002).
In other words, in order to offer online educational opportunities to other states' residents, VCU must comply with states' policies for distance education and be able to demonstrate compliance upon request. If VCU were to be found not in compliance, then all students enrolled at VCU would not be allowed to use Title IV, HEA program funds ( federal financial aid & grants) to pay for their education.
A federal judge recently struck down the distance education portion of the state authorization rule, but the USDOE appealed the ruling on September 8, 2011. If the USDOE’s appeal is granted and the rule goes into effect, VCU would have to be able to demonstrate a "good faith" effort to comply by July 2014. Although the state authorization rule is still in limbo, Dr. Joseph Marolla (Vice Provost for Instruction) has decided to be proactive in his approach to the matter, and this Wiki is intended to outline the steps Dr. Marolla has taken to comply with the federal government's state authorization policy on behalf of VCU.
On June 5, 2012, the US Court of Appeals decided to vacate the state authorization portion of the Program Integrity Rules, finding that the USDOE did not comply with federal rulemaking processes that would have given online education providers an opportunity to offer feedback to the USDOE before the rule was implemented. Although the court's ruling prevents the federal government from taking punitive measures against postsecondary institutions that do not comply with states' authorization statutes, states still have the ability to enforce their authorization policies.
What VCU has Done:
1) Researched state policies to discern common criteria for exemption and triggers for licensure. Research revealed that states often base their policies on 1) an out-of-state institution's physical presence in the state, 2) whether a postsecondary institution is public or private, and 3) an institution's accreditation status.
2) Created a list of each states' point of contact for state authorization. State Contact Information.xlsx
2) Identified states that have a "clinical experience" clause in their definition of physical presence and VCU's online programs that may trigger the need for VCU to register with these states.
3) Identified states that have a recruiting and solicitation clause in their definition of physical presence that that may necessitate VCU to seek licensure.
4) Drafted letters for each state's policies regarding physical presence, our status as a public institution, our accreditation with SACS. Sample Letters: Letter_physicalpresence_Nebraska.docx , Letter_Accreditation_Montana.docx , & Letter_Public_Indiana.docx
5) Composed and mailed a letter of inquiry to 49 states and the District of Columbia on October 11th, 2011. Sample Letter: Stateauthorization_Inquiry Letter_Alabama.docx
6) Sought advice from David Ross from VCU's Office of the General Counsel to ensure that our responses to each state are supported by VCU's legal experts.
What VCU is Currently Doing:
1) Maintaining digital and physical records of all interactions with each state. Copies of all letters, forms, questionnaires sent to states and received from states are maintained so we will be able to demonstrate a "good faith" effort to comply with this legislation.
2) Created excel document briefly outlining the actions required by states that have responded. Document also indicates if VCU has been allowed to offer distance education opportunities by particular states and clarifies what actions have been completed thus far.
3) Replying to states' requests for documentation, data, and further information.