Eased rules would help online growth

State government leaders will likely move toward easing regulations for online programs, a step that would help GW continue to grow its burgeoning digital offerings.

State government officials will meet in Indianapolis this week to discuss how to roll back patchwork regulations that higher education leaders say have slowed universities’ efforts to add online programs that appeal to professional students and bring in tuition.

A group of state and education leaders, including former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley, proposed ways to streamline the rules and lower fees, which can total $10,000 per state.

Paul Schiff Berman, GW’s vice provost for online education and academic innovation, said the University may have been prevented from enrolling students in online programs if they lived in states with strict rules. The Office of the General Counsel is tracking where online students reside to understand the scope of the issue, Berman said.

“It is very important to us that there be more streamlined ways to comply with [Department of Education] and state requirements, as we expect the growth in online programs to continue,” he said. “Anything that would streamline this process would be welcome from our perspective.”

Under a proposal by one distance education regulatory body, states that enroll students in online university programs elsewhere would not be able to regulate programs in those states. Instead, the programs would be regulated by their home state.

But the process of getting every state on board will likely be “long and drawn out” over several months, said Crady deGolian, director of the Council of State Governments’ National Center for Interstate Compacts.

He said in a phone interview from the national conference that state leaders are eager to increase access to online programs, but are looking to ensure that enough regulation is in place for consumer protection. That focus is increasing as the Department of Education keeps a closer eye on for-profit universities’ online programs.

“Admittedly, there is a delicate balance between accessibility and regulation and making sure stringent-enough policies and practices are in place to make sure states and institutions will be comfortable participating,” deGolian said.

The potential changes come as GW tries to broaden its appeal to online graduate students, releasing new digital programs in business and public health this year. GW also appointed Berman as the University’s first high-level administrator in charge of online learning.

GW’s online programs have earned recognition as some of the top digital graduate offerings in the U.S. In January, GW’s online education and nursing programs were each listed within the top 20 in their respective categories by U.S. News & World Report. The school’s online MBA was No. 45 on the online graduate program ranking.

The strategy to bulk up online education is also padding GW’s tuition revenue, as its on-campus offerings are limited by a District-imposed enrollment cap.

Cory Weinberg contributed to this report.

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