The sudden shift to online learning as a result of COVID-19 has emphasized the need for updated regulations regarding distance learning in higher education. As a consequence, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos proposed new rules Wednesday that would add upon last year’s proposed Distance Learning and Innovation regulation, states a press release from the Department of Education.
The proposed ruled will have a 30-day comment period and the department will publish a final regulation prior to Nov. 1, 2020.
“We know there are fewer and fewer ‘traditional’ students in higher education, and this current crisis has made crystal clear the need for more innovation,” said DeVos. “It’s past time we rethink higher ed to meet the needs of all students. Fortunately, we started work last year to develop a new set of standards that are responsive to current realities, that embrace new technology, that open doors for much-needed innovation in higher education, and that expand access for students to the flexible, relevant education opportunities they need.”
According to the press statement, the proposed regulation will do the following:
- Emphasize demonstrated learning over seat time.
- Remove confusion over whether a course is eligible for Title IV aid by defining “regular and substantive” interaction between students and instructors.
- Clarify and simplify the requirements for direct assessment programs, including how to determine equivalent credit hours.
- Add a definition of “juvenile justice facility” to ensure that incarcerated students remain Pell eligible.
- Allow students enrolled in Title IV, Higher Education Act (HEA)-eligible foreign institutions to complete up to 25% of their programs at an eligible institution in the United States. This provision is particularly important for students temporarily unable to attend courses abroad due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Encourage employer participation in developing educational programs.
- Create a new, student-centric system for disbursing Title IV, HEA assistance to students in subscription-based programs.
- Require prompt action by the Department on applications to participate, or continue to participate, as an eligible institution in the HEA, Title IV program. In the past, these applications have been stalled for months or even years.