College Accreditation Overhaul Could Be Good News for Online Schools

Discussion in 'General Distance Learning Discussions' started by decimon, Aug 4, 2018.

  1. decimon

    decimon Well-Known Member

  2. heirophant

    heirophant Well-Known Member

    The news in that story is that the US Dept of Education has been trying to close down Western Governor's University, based on a 2008 law that differentiates between 'distance education' and 'correspondence' programs. 'Distance learning' must have some required amount of student-professor interaction, otherwise it's 'correspondence'. And if more than 50% of a school's programs are deemed 'correspondence', the entire school loses its federal financial aid eligibility regardless of its accreditation.

    My guess is that this policy was originally enacted at the behest of the teacher's unions. After the Dept of Education damn near killed off 'for-profit' higher education, this was apparently the next shoe scheduled to drop.

    So the US Dept of Education sent a demand letter to Western Governors, ordering them to repay $713 million in financial aid that its students have received over the years, based on this interpretation of that law.

    WGU hasn't paid (doing so would probably bankrupt them) and argues that they offer competency-based assessments and professors are available if students need to consult them in meeting the assessments. So it looks to me like any prior-learning-assessment 'test-out' programs would be vulnerable to the same kind of shake-down. All of the 'Big 3' would seem to be prey to this.

    Hence ELearningInside's happiness at the news that the Trump administration's Dept of Education is looking to reform this inherited policy as part of its broad-scope accreditation overhaul. Nothing specific yet, but they have asked interested stakeholders for input.
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2018
  3. decimon

    decimon Well-Known Member

    Who pays the piper calls the tune. Maybe we should be looking into the true effect of federal aid on higher education. IMO, federal aid has just raised the cost of higher education.

    How assessment schools dodge this bullet is puzzling. Or, for that matter, any school accepting substantial credits from CLEP, DSST, et al.

    The bluebird of happiness that is DeVos. Maybe. We'll see.
  4. SteveFoerster

    SteveFoerster Resident Gadfly Staff Member

    Hmm. They mostly represent K-12 teachers. Why would they care?
  5. Stanislav

    Stanislav Well-Known Member

    I believe the quarrel is whether "student mentors" are "professors". The Department argues they are akin to tutors and do not count. WGU insists that in their model, they broke down faculty work into different roles, and SMs do professors' advising and office hours duties.
    Seeing how WGU hires people with advanced degrees in the field, full time, to fill the job, I'm with WGU on this. No point messing with a school that at least tries to do this in a non-evil way, for staff and students alike. Anyhow, the rules age ambiguous, and the right approach is to overhaul them - which is what happens. I hope the outcome is favourable.
  6. heirophant

    heirophant Well-Known Member

    I was thinking of things like the AAUP (American Association of University Professors)

    And inevitably the ubiquitous SEIU (Service Employees International Union)

    And the AFT (American Federation of Teachers)

    The NEA (National Education Association)

    There are other groups active in this area as well.

    We all know that they are always busy lobbying and that many lawmakers at all levels are receptive to that. They get their narrative out into the professional and general media too.

    I personally suspect that the recent jihad against 'for-profit' higher education (too many adjuncts, not enough tenure) was in some large part their work. The next target is likely to be programs that they insist don't employ sufficient numbers of professors. It certainly fits the pattern. The Department of Education might have trouble outlawing what they (misleadingly) call 'correspondence' programs outright, but making them ineligible for federal financial aid is an alternative way of trying to quash them.
  7. Stanislav

    Stanislav Well-Known Member

    That they do. However, you seem to imply it's a bad thing. In reality, commercial interests that align against interests of these unions' members (schools abusing adjunct slavery, dubious charter operators, uneven private and religious schools, homeschooling industry and cult) are busy lobbying too. In fact, they are so successful they managed to get one of their own rank Secretary of Education. Private interests will always lobby, it's actually the Framers' intent (goes way back to common law) - and it is open both to capital and to organized labor.
  8. Dustin

    Dustin Well-Known Member

    Athabasca University hires Masters and PhD-level faculty, which it calls Facilitators. A comprehensive course package consisting of required reading from textbooks or research articles, required Commentary (reading that replaces the lecture), Key Terms, Study Questions, quizzes, etc. makes up the content in the course. You work through that content on your own and then submit assignments and write a proctored final.

    Assignments and the final exam are graded by the Facilitator but otherwise you can go through most courses with little to no contact with the Facilitator (and indeed in the majority of my courses my only content with the Facilitator was their comments on my graded assignments.)

    Facilitators officially have office hours but I've never tried to contact them by phone, most communication is done via email. This seems to be similar to the WGU model, although Athabasca is a little more traditional. For example, Athabasca has specific start and end time for courses - though start dates are monthly and extensions are available, they give grades and calculate a GPA, etc.
  9. Anthony Pina

    Anthony Pina Active Member

    I don't really think that the Dept. of Ed. has any plans to close down WGU. Secretary DeVos would not be in favor of that. WGU has been a poster child for successful competency-based education.
    The federal definitions for distance education and correspondence education predate and did not anticipate fully online courses and competency-based courses. The Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducts audits and makes recommendations, but cannot enforce those recommendations. It was the OIG--not the Dept. of Ed. leadership, that recommended that WGU repay all of its Federal Title IV financial aid funding. The same situation occurred at St. Mary of the Woods College a few years back (through the recommendation was much lower--"only" 43 million).
    Neither WGU nor St. Mary of the Woods will end up returning all those dollars. As you state, the Dept. of Ed. under the previous administration decided to crack down on for-profits and online education, without adequately explaining concepts like "regular and substantive interaction." The OIG in their audits tried to do some of that but, in my opinion, they did not do a very good job.
    The current Dept. of Ed. leadership recognizes that the definitions and policies, as they stand, are outdated and ineffective. Hopefully (unlike the previous administration) they will actually consult with people who know something about online learning and instruction and o not have an ideological bias against it.
    SteveFoerster likes this.

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