Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Opposing the Higher Ed Act

... or at least one of the major provisions of the Higher Ed Act. As a board member of the Instructional Technology Council (ICT) I am supportive of an effort under way to oppose the distance education language that is included in the proposed bill. Here is the official text sent out by the ITC Board.

Legislative Alert: Contact your Congressman or Senator Today!

ITC would like you to be aware of a provision in the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act that could severely impact our distance education programs. The bill requires institutions “to have processes through which the institution establishes that the student who registers in a distance education course or program is the same student who participates in and completes the program and receives the academic credit.”

The language is vague, but we are concerned the Department of Education or other regulatory agencies could impose some onerous regulations to force colleges to comply with their interpretation of the bill once Congress has passed it – requirements that could be costly or prohibitive, such as forcing colleges to make all distance learning students take face-to-face proctored exams.

The Senate and House have each selected their conference committee members for the reauthorization which the Senate and House have passed (see below). In the next two weeks they will look at their respective versions to create a single bill that will go back to their respective chambers for final passage, and to the President for his signature.

If you are concerned, you must act quickly. Contact your congressman and/or senators and tell them:

1) You oppose this language in the bill

2) Ask them to help delete the language

3) If necessary, suggest they submit compromise language that makes this provision only apply to institutions where the distance education enrollment is more than 50 percent of the overall institutional enrollment

Call the Capitol switchboard at (202)224-3121 to be connected directly with your congressman or senator’s office. Here is a proposed e-mail you can send below. You can find the contact information for your congressman or senator at http://www.visi.com/juan/congress/:

To a Senator:
The Honorable (full name)
__(Rm.#)__(name of)Senate Office Building

United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

To a Representative:
The Honorable (full name)
__(Rm.#)__(name of)House Office Building

United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515


Dear ______________________________,

I oppose the language in Section 496 (20 U.S.C. 1099b) of the Higher Education Act re-authorization bill, specifically, (1) sub-section (a) (A) (4) (B) (ii) which states:

`(ii) the agency or association requires an institution that offers distance education to have processes through which the institution establishes that the student who registers in a distance education course or program is the same student who participates in and completes the program and receives the academic credit

I oppose this language for several reasons:

1) there is no evidence to suggest a problem exists. Campuses have accepted practices for admission, registration and attendance in place that apply to traditional face-to-face classes and to those that are delivered at a distance – distance education classes are just a different method of delivery and must adhere to the same campus standards and expectations.

2) distance education administrators are accountable to the institution’s regional accrediting agency and required to meet their standards, expectations, and provide an "equivalent" learning experience as a traditional class.

3) the costs for complying with any additional regulations that could result from this legislation could be substantial, and could force colleges to increase tuition and fees to fund compliance.

4) regulations that result from this legislation could undermine the benefits of distance education for - active duty military personnel at home and abroad, working students or single parents with young children or other family obligations that prevent them from taking classes during regular classroom hours, and/or rural residents who live or work too far from the college to travel to campus to make earning their college degree an option.

I ask that you support efforts to remove this language from the current bill, or, at the very least, to support compromise language that would limit these provisions to institutions that have distance education enrollments which are more than 50 percent of their total enrollment so the vast majority of legitimate, accredited colleges are not affected by this legislation.

Thank you for your consideration of this request.

Sincerely,

********************* eom

The text above was written by Fred Lokken who is another ITC board member and the incoming Chair of the ITC Board. I agree with his points completely. Please have your voice heard by the legislators who are trying to solve a problem that doesn't exist.

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