Ruling Blocks New Regulation for Online Learning

A new federal rule requiring colleges with online programs to seek approval in every state where they enroll students was struck down by a U.S. District Court judge Tuesday.

It is unclear how the ruling would affect online programs across the country, including those offered at Liberty University, which currently enrolls more than 64,000 online students and operates in all 50 states.

Tuesday’s court ruling by Judge Rosemary M. Collyer of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia struck down the rule on the grounds that colleges had not been given adequate time to review it and seek comment on it.

Meanwhile, the Department of Education is reviewing the opinion and considering its options, which could include an appeal.

The federal rule was enacted, in part, to protect students and taxpayers from fraud and abuse, especially in the for-profit sector, according to reports from The Chronicle of Higher Education.  If the rule is upheld, colleges will risk losing federal financial aid funding for their students if they offer online programs in states where they are not authorized to operate.

The federal rule took effect on July 1, though full compliance is not required until 2014.
Liberty officials are following the issue and assessing how the requirement might affect its students and operations.

In anticipation of the change, Liberty assembled a team last March to work on meeting the new requirements, LU financial aid director Rob Ritz said in an email statement.

Liberty plans to continue operating in all 50 states, and will meet whatever requirements are necessary, said chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. in an email statement Wednesday.

“Liberty will incur some additional costs in order to comply with the new regulations just as all other universities offering online programs will. Many of those universities will likely increase tuition to cover these costs. Liberty has no plans to do so at this time,” Falwell said.

Each state has a different process for approving whether a college or university can legally operate within its borders. In some states, it costs thousands of dollars and a significant number of man-hours to submit an application; others have looser standards.

Virginia can only approve online schools if they have a brick and mortar presence in the state, said Kathleen Kincheloe, assistant director of communication at the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV).

Schools that do not have a physical presence can enroll students from Virginia, but those students would not be legally protected by the state if fraud or other violations occur.
Liberty has long met Virginia’s requirements for both its residential and online programs, Kincheloe added.

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