New Barrier to Distance Education

Barriers to distance education in the 1970s and 1980s w=focused on accreditation and licensing.

Barriers in 2012 appear to be related to state scrutiny of programs that students pay for with Federal student financial aid.

You might find the following anecdote interesting.   I thought it might be a good idea to contact someone at University of North Carolina to inform them about Distance Education Day.

1. Background
UNC has a slogan:  Geography Is No Barrier  •  Age Is No Barrier  •  Online and Close To Home
The following description appears at
The University of North Carolina Online offers comprehensive descriptions of and contact, application, admission, and tuition and fee information for more than 240 online programs in 22 fields of study offered by the 16 constituent universities of one of the world’s most prestigious university systems.

2.  The Phone Call
I called an online degree program administrator at the University of North Carolina to find out if any administrator would be interested in participating in the commemoration of distance education day.  I reached an administrator in a continuing education department.   I told him about the history of Distance Education Day and he replied, "We're probably not interested.  There are plenty of obstacles in place to distance education."

3. An anecdote about "state audits of out-of-state online programs."
Federal regulations require states to scrutinize online education programs where students receive federal financial aid.

The University of North Carolina has been told (by auditors from Massachusetts) that the UNC needs to pay for auditors from Massachusetts to spend five days in North Carolina to evaluate online programs offered by UNC to students who live in Mass.  The scrutiny will cost $200,000.  If the auditors are not allowed on campus in UNC, then UNC will be barred from offering the programs to Massachusetts residents who accept federal student aid.


The person who told me this anecdote said that I can learn more about these federal regulations by reading the WICHE website for updates on Federal student financial aid regulations.

The following questions appear on this page in the WICHE website.

These regulations may be about "consumer protection," but doesn't it also have a lot to do with "turf protection?" 

“Turf protection” may have entered into some of the existing state rules regarding regulation of out-of-state education providers. As for the federal government’s most recent actions, turf issues do not seem to be part of their motivation. They are responding to student complaints, audit findings, and the results of Senate hearings about institutions. Over the past couple years there has been increasing concern by the Senate and the U.S. Department of Education about how federal financial aid dollars are spent at some institutions. Both the Senate and the Department have raised concern about the accrediting community’s role in assuring quality and the states’ role in assuring consumer protection. The Department is not saying that it will go by state laws, which have been enforced unevenly. Therefore, the new federal rules are not based upon “turf protection” and we hope that states do not see this as an opportunity to erect unreasonable barriers.

What is the penalty if my institution does not comply with these regulations?

These regulations are all tied to federal financial aid. Presumably, students studying in states in which your institution does not have approval will not be eligible for federal financial aid.

Fascinating.   So 30 years after a legal barrier was removed (states are no longer allowed to block out-of-state programs from being registered), there is now a Federal financial regulation that can be used to keep competing online programs out of the state by requiring costly auditing.