The States of Online Regulation

Online colleges looking to expand their national footprints might have to gird themselves for a regulatory beating from the Sun Belt. And they might get chilly receptions in certain parts of the Upper Midwest, too.

Those regions are home to a number of the least hospitable regulatory environments for online interlopers looking to enroll students from states where they do not have a physical presence, according to a new report from the consulting firm Eduventures. The report, scheduled to be released today, examined the regulatory standards and practices in every U.S. state and the District of Columbia.

It found that Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming are among the least permissive states as far as requiring online institutions to acquire unique licenses to “operate” inside their borders.

Online education seems to be winning the battle against the initial skepticism about its legitimacy. Online enrollments have grown at nine times the rate of classroom-based education since 2002, according to the Sloan Consortium (with major buy-in in the public sector). But deep-seated opinions — bolstered by the occasional unmasking of a fly-by-night diploma mill — are not the only obstacles left over from many centuries of campus-bound higher education. As higher education has evolved, state-by-state regulatory standards have remained “inconsistent, complex, and behind [the] online boom,” says the Eduventures report.

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