Crossing State Lines Gets Tougher for Colleges, Universities

Clemson University administrators are pushing to expand online programs, which are cheaper for the cash-strapped university to maintain and also more in demand for working professionals.

But new federal regulations aimed at controlling the for-profit college industry are costing public institutions like Clemson and private nonprofit schools like Southern Wesleyan thousands, and potentially millions, of dollars to comply.

One large Midwest university system places its estimate at $5.5 million.

To introduce more oversight into the for-profit industry’s education practices, the federal government is now requiring that all higher-education institutions whose students receive federal financial aid be authorized in every state where they are doing business. In general, it means that if a Clemson student is seated outside South Carolina while taking an online class or doing an internship or co-op, the university must have formal permission to be there. Still, “doing business” varies by definition among the 50 states, and is prohibitively expensive in a few.

Should any school fail to comply, its students studying out of state would not be eligible for financial aid. Clemson officials don’t know what percentage of the $90 million in federal aid its students received last year this would apply to.

But they do know it would affect hundreds of students now, and potentially thousands of students in the future. Clemson offered just over 300 classes online this summer, has nine completely online degree programs and 20 certificate programs. About half of Clemson students receive some form of federal financial aid, be it a Pell Grant or a federally backed Stafford Loan.

A July 1 deadline to comply with the federal regulations was recently extended a couple of years, but every college and university must show the federal government a “good faith effort” to comply by late next week.

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