Federal rule could hinder Yale’s online momentum

A new federal rule may require Yale to secure permission for its online education initiatives.

Debated in Washington last week, the rule would require colleges seeking federal aid to secure permission to operate in every state where they enroll students for online education courses. While the rule primarily aims to ensure that for-profit online courses meet basic standards, Yale administrators say it could halt the momentum of the University’s own online education initiatives.

“The Department of Education proposal is a big concern and could create a very burdensome situation for online education,” said Dorothy Robinson, Yale’s General Counsel. “The proposal applies to MOOCs as well as programs eligible for Title IV funds and doesn’t allow states to exempt programs based on accreditation, years in operation or comparable exemptions.”

Robinson said the proposal would force the University to have individual online courses authorized in every state with one or more enrolled students. The only exception is Connecticut, where Yale’s “charter authority and regional accreditation are recognized,” she said.

One initiative that could be particularly affected by the rule is Yale Summer Online. In 2012, 97 Yale students and six non-Yale students took courses for college credit through this program.

Richard Jacob, Yale’s Vice President for Federal and State Relations, said the difficulty of securing authorization in every state could ultimately lead Yale to restrict its online offerings.

“It could significantly impede the growth of online education,” he said. “Under the proposal, Yale’s online courses would be subject to more extensive government oversight than on-campus instruction. Yale could even find itself applying for state approval in every state where a student happens to be taking an online Yale course.”

Jacob said no one at the Department of Education has explained why Yale’s accreditation — which is accepted as proof of the quality of a Yale education for out-of-state students enrolled on campus — is not sufficient proof for out-of-state students who might take a course online.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, registration fees can range from approximately $100 in Alaska and Wyoming to $10,000 in Massachusetts. Some states may require that schools pay additional fees for each added course or program.

Despite these efforts to increase regulations, the federal government has expressed enthusiasm about online education initiatives.

In a speech to the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association last summer, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan praised the potential of the current “digital revolution” in higher education.

Online education tools, when used well, could be harnessed towards the improvement of the country’s colleges and universities, he said.

“Through the smart use of technology, higher education now has an extraordinary opportunity to personalize learning, expand access and bolster productivity,” Duncan said.

Yale’s current online initiatives include online summer session courses, Open Yale Courses and a fledgling partnership with the Massive Open Online Course platform Coursera.

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