This Summer, Online Collaborating is Hot!

It has been a good summer and a good year for colleges finding ways to work together online. I’ve been meaning to note this development for some time, but this week’s developments with California State University Online prompted me to share my observations. Meanwhile, there have been exciting advances with inter-institutional partnerships, both old and new.

Reboot of CalState Online
Our friend, Phil Hill of the e-Literate blog, wrote an excellent piece It’s the End of Cal State Online As We Know It… that found:

In a letter to campus leaders, Cal State University system office last month announced that Cal State Online will no longer operate as originally conceived.

Based on their work, Inside Higher Ed wrote: “California State U System Nixes Online Degree Arm for Shared Services Model“, which said:

Photo of jalapeno peepers arranged to spell the word "hot"

Online Collaboration is Hot!

The California State University System is replacing its distance education portal with a shared services model less than two years after its launch, as the system’s campuses decide they would rather do the work on their own.

What seems to be happening is that they are moving from an ambitious plan to “create a standardized, centralized, comprehensive business, marketing and outreach support structure for all aspects of online program delivery for the Cal State University System.” Although they ae abandoning much of the centralized academics, a shared services model was always part of the plan. It now appears like it will be the central focus. That may be what is politically feasible.

We will know more about next steps in the next few months. First, CSU officials will conduct a “listening tour” of each campus, gain advice from a new Commission on Online Education, and obtain feedback from an online discussion forum.

Some “Partnerships” Don’t Work As Expected
Please take one minute and 10 seconds to watch the U.S. Congressional leaders hold hands and sing “We Shall Overcome.”

That looked more uncomfortable than wearing Brillo underwear.

Colleges are Having Better Luck Singing in Harmony
While politicians seem to have an increasingly hard time in working in concert, there have been several recent announcements about colleges singing in unison:

Unizin emerges from the shadows and has big goals in sight
A partnership among several large universities was highlighted by the e-Literate blog in May and was officially announced in June.   They have ambitious goals that they could reach: “…we want to bias things in the direction of open standards, interoperability, and scale. Unizin is about tipping the table in favor of the academy by collectively owning (buying, developing, and connecting) the essential infrastructure that enables digital learning on our campuses and beyond.” See their website for more details.

Washington’s community colleges partner on competency-based learning
A dozen of Washington’s two-year colleges are partnering to create a competency-based degree that will increase student completion and speed student’s time to completion. They will rely on adaptive learning. Working together makes sense as it is project that is probably larger than any one institution could tackle and it leads to creation of compatible competency modules from the start.

eCampusManitoba is a new one-stop shop
Students will be able to access one portal to learn about online offerings from institutions throughout the province.

The University of Missouri System begins course sharing
By working together, they plan to allow students to enroll in courses at any of the four campuses. The goals are: “to create an online alternative for classes that typically have low enrollment, to broaden access to unique classes and to give partnering faculty members time to work on other projects, such as research, because they’re ideally alternating semesters of teaching their online courses.”

Pat James to head new California Community College System collaboration
Former WCET fellow Pat James will head the Online Education Initiative, which has at its goal to: “dramatically increase the number of California Community Colleges students who obtain associate degrees and transfer to four-year colleges each year by providing online courses and services within a statewide CCC Online Education system.”

Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?
This seems like a remarkable amount of activity and we are not even to August yet. Add to that the expansion of eCampusAlberta to more institutions and BCcampus continuing to expand its open textbooks.

Keeping with the collaborative theme, at the WCET Annual Meeting we will be featuring Nancy Zimpher, chancellor of the State University of New York (SUNY). One of the items she will discuss is Open SUNY, which is “a seamless way for you to access the courses, degrees, professors, and rich academics of all 64 SUNY campuses flexibility.”

We have been updating our profiles of e-learning consortia, but we have much more work to do. If you know of a partnership that is missing or if one needs to be updated, let us all know.Photo of Russ Poulin with baseball bat

Collaboration is hot!


Russell Poulin
Interim Co-Executive Director
WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies

If you like our work, join WCET!



Photo credit for peppers: Morgue File.

State Authorization: Education Pauses, Defense Follows, and We Webcast It All

It has been a few weeks since Ted Mitchell, the U.S. Department of Education’s Under Secretary for Postsecondary Education, announced that there will be a “pause” in proposing new federal state authorization regulations for distance education. According to Inside Higher Ed, he said: “It’s complicated, and we want to get it right.”

In this blog post, I comment on the future of the Department of Education’s “pause” and what this means for those signing the Department of Defense’s MOU. We also announce a partnership to bring you a series of two webcasts to help bring clarity on these (and many other) state authorization issues.

The U.S. Department of Education Regulation on “Pause”

As of last week, there were no immediate plans by the Department to move forward in issuing a new proposed language for the regulation. The official word is that they are on “pause” with the federal state authorization regulation. My guess is that they do “want to get it right” and that they take their time to create a new process.

Graphic of a pause button.

The federal state authorization regulation has hit the “pause” button.


  • There is no federal deadline for compliance with state authorization regulations for distance education.
  • Don’t get confused by the Department’s letter announcing a one year “delay” on enforcing the part of the state authorization regulations. That letter references sections 600.9(a) and (b), which are about regulating institutions within a state and is NOT about distance education.  You can learn more about the differences in a blog post that Greg Ferenbach of Cooley,  LLP wrote for us earlier this year.  In brief, some states are still confused about what the Department wants in terms of authorizing colleges within their state and they needed another extension. Otherwise, some colleges would have lost their financial aid eligibility.
  • It is unclear what next steps the Department will take. It is likely that they may wait until after the elections this fall before moving forward.
  • Finally, state regulations are still in force. States expect you to be in compliance prior to enrolling students, marketing, or performing any regulated activity in their state.

The U.S. Department of Defense’s Memorandum of Understanding Joins the “Pause”

The Department of Defense issued a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that institutions must sign if they wish to offer Tuition Assistance to their students in the military.  We received questions about how to interpret the state authorization language, which, in part, refers to the U.S. Department of Education regulations.  Of course, Education’s distance education regulation is on “pause” for now.

Thank you to our friends at the Cooley LLP law firm who led us to a new FAQ from the DOD on the MOU.   How’s that for a mess of letters?

Question 29 addresses state authorization. Both Cooley and we (at WCET) are taking that response to mean that the Department of Defense will follow the Department of Education’s lead in the “pause” on enforcing state authorization. Since Defense has been referencing Education’s state authorization regulation all along, it makes sense that they wait until the Department of Education issues the new regulation.

Announcing Two State Authorization Webcasts

Need more updates and details? WCET partners with the Online learning Consortium, the University Professional & Continuing Education Association, and the Midwest Higher Education Compact’s State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement to offer two informational webcasts:

  • August 14: State Authorization for Distance Education:  The Future for REGULATIONS
    Covers the latest on the state, federal, and military regulations.  It also advises colleges on what to do next.
    (2:00 PM Eastern / 1:00 PM Central / Noon Mountain / 11:00 AM Pacific)
  • August 19: State Authorization for Distance Education:  The Future for RECIPROCITY
    Everything you ever wanted to know about the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA).
    (2:00 PM Eastern / 1:00 PM Central / Noon Mountain / 11:00 AM Pacific)

Learn more about these free webcasts. Separate registration is needed for each event and we do expect that they will fill-up. An archive of each webcast will be made available.

It is great that these organizations are working together to give you these updates.

Meanwhile, have a great summer!Photo of Russ Poulin with baseball bat


Russell Poulin
Interim Co-Executive Director
WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies

If you like our work, join WCET!

Fresh air, Fresh ideas

As military boot camp serves to bulk up the physical endurance and mental preparation for combat service, WCET’s data boot camp brought together cross-functional teams to bulk up their knowledge and preparation to build analytics capacity at their specific institution.  Unlike other events where the focus is on keynote speakers, the boot camp allowed for valuable networking and group problem solving by using small group break-outs, subject matter expert led discussions, and plenty of time for beneficial conversations.

Networking begins at WCET Boot Camp in beautiful Vail, CO.

Networking begins at WCET Boot Camp in beautiful Vail, CO.

As the character of the boot camp was centered on conversations, what you will not find here, or on the boot camp resources page, are video recordings or a blow-by-blow of who said what when.  Rather, the purpose of the event, and the true value, was for attendees to take away their personalized plan for implementing data analytics on their campus.  In that frame of reference, what follows are some highlights of information shared by our subject matter experts (SMEs) – I have tried to credit direct quotes but have often taken ideas from several people and condensed them into one point. For more direct quotes and learning be sure to check out the Storify of the tweets using #wcetbootcamp!

  • Postsecondary institutions need to examine the validity of our work – are we measuring the right things? Are our programs adding value for students and is it worth the cost?
  • Are institutional innovations sustainable once grant and other one-time funding are gone?  Dennis Jones noted “A really good innovation is of little use if it isn’t economically viable.”
  • The key to success for innovations is creative use of human resources – using existing team to work on innovations by shifting small amounts of time to it.  The only outlay of cost is time, no other monetary investment. (As Linda Baer called it… “skunk works projects” – done under the radar and eventually funded when they become necessary.)
  • Develop a short term plan (3-5 years) that aligns with your institutional strategic plan which is accepted by all stakeholders and has specific deliverables for design, pilots, scaling to the entire population and measuring, monitoring and optimizing moving forward.
  • Keep it simple and focused – determine your strategic need and pose the question you’d like to answer using the data before you start. As Mike Sharkey shared on twitter “If you don’t know where to start, think of a single use case to help narrow the scope.”
  • Accept imperfection.
  • Don’t get stuck in analysis paralysis – move from analysis to action.
  • Identify the low-hanging fruit – find ways to develop small wins.
  • Coordination and documentation of the data collection processes are key to building a sustainable analytic culture on campus.
  • Get approval from your institutional review board early in the process so you can avoid the “we can’t do it because of FERPA” detractors.
  • Communicate the plan with all stakeholders – don’t leave anyone out of the implementation planning.  Strong communications will support cultural change within your institutional culture.
  • Look all around your institution for experts to support your analytic endeavors.  There are smart faculty and practitioners in all disciplines from math to academic advising to English and geography.  You don’t necessarily have to depend on outside expertise.
  • If you do hire consultants, the best consultants are always working themselves out of a job – they come in and build capacity within your institution so you can be self-supporting.
  • As Vernon Smith noted, “Innovation meets a need in a new way. Be prepared to fail. Then fail fast and move on.”
Next steps discussion led by SMEs Vernon Smith, Lisa Foss, Ellen Wagner, Mike Sharkey and Linda Baer.

Next steps discussion led by SMEs Vernon Smith, Lisa Foss, Ellen Wagner, Mike Sharkey and Linda Baer.


We invite you to join or continue the conversation at WCET’s 26th Annual Meeting in Portland, OR November 19-21, 2014.   If you have an analytics story, or other projects, research or practices in e-learning to share, be sure to submit your proposal by Friday, July 18th.


Special thanks go out to all of our SMEs for sharing your experiences and knowledge and participants for your active participation in WCET’s data boot camp!




See you in Portland!

Photo of Cali MorrisonCali Morrison
WCET, Manager, Communications
Support our work.  Join WCET.

U.S. Department of Education ‘Pausing’ on State Authorization

In an address to the Council of Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) yesterday, Ted Mitchell (Under Secretary for Postsecondary) Education announced a ‘pause’ on state authorization.  This announcement was reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed today.  I’ll share what I know about this.

The Department’s Earlier Announcement of a Delay was Not about Distance Education

The Department of Education published a notice a few days ago that it will delay the deadline for state authorization compliance by another year.  The letter references sections 600.9(a) and (b), which are about regulating institutions WITHIN A STATE and is NOT about distance education.  You can learn more about the differences in the two types of ‘state authorization’ in a blog post that Greg Ferenbach of Cooley,  LLP wrote for us earlier this year.  In brief, some states are still confused about what the Department wants in terms of authorizing institutions within their state and they needed another extension or some of their colleges would have lost their financial aid eligibility.The words "state authorization surrounded by all the state names.

There Has Been Considerable Contact with the Department about the Distance Ed Regulation

WCET joined with Sloan-C and UPCEA to write a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Under Secretary Mitchell about our concerns with the direction the Department was taking and to give recommendations on how the Department might proceed.   I have also been talking with numerous groups and individuals that have been writing their own letters or have used their contacts.

On Tuesday of this week, Marshall Hill (Executive Director of the National Council on State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements) and some high-ranking members of the National Council leadership board met with Mr. Mitchell.  According to Marshall, Mr. Mitchell was aware of many of the concerns that they raised and was very supportive of reciprocity.  From that meeting, Mr. Mitchell indicated that more work needed to be done, but did not suggest the delay.

Mr. Mitchell’s reference in the Inside Higher Ed article about addressing a “specific problem” showed that our message was being heard.

Ted Mitchell’s Announcement to CHEA

The original timeline was for the Department to issue proposed distance education regulations for public comment in July or August.  They would address the comments and issue a final version of the new regulations by the end of October.  That date was important, as it is the deadline for regulations that are to be implemented by July 1 of next year.

Given that Mr. Mitchell is new in his position as Under Secretary and the great concern from all sectors about both types of ‘state authorization’ regulations, it is understandable that the Department would wish to put a pause on proposing a new regulation.  Additionally, the “reauthorization” of the higher education act (which governs the federal financial rules) is now getting underway.  State authorization has already been a political football in those discussions.

It will be interesting to see if this issue is left for reauthorization or if they will create another process to address this issue. I will let you know what I learn.  Meanwhile, I’m having conversations with organizations of states about engaging with the Department on real dialogue on this issue.  As we suggested in our letter, if the Department has concerns about what states are doing or not doing, they should directly involve the states in seeking solutions.

State Regulations are Still in Place

As a reminder…there is no pause or delay on state regulations.  States expect institutions to follow their laws and regulations before enrolling students or performing any other regulated activity in that state…whether there is a federal regulation or not.Photo of Russ Poulin with baseball bat


Russell Poulin
Interim Co-Executive Director
WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies

If you like our work, join WCET!

Limited Time Offer!: Using Retail Marketing Tactics to Get Adults Back to College

Connecticut’s innovative new program to attract students with some credits, but no degree has had amazing success in grabbing the attention of its target audience.  Thank you to Ed Klonoski, President of Charter Oak State College, who describes “Go Back to Get Ahead,” which started only a few weeks ago.
Russ Poulin

I am here to tell you a story that contains the seeds for a new and powerful approach to degree completion.  It is my hope that this description of Connecticut’s Go Back to Get Ahead program will provide the key elements necessary to rolling out a successful statewide program in your locality.

Thanks to the work of Lumina Foundation, the idea that American higher education must find a way to educate more working adults in order to provide the economy with a sufficiently skilled workforce is now gaining traction among the political class (i.e. governors).  We also know that today 40% of college students are over age 24 while only 15% are 18-24, residential and full time.  The current student population is part time and older; in fact, this is the new majority.  And to make that change even more important, in Connecticut, we are seeing a 1.8% annual decline in our eighteen year olds.

These three facts, when taken together, make this the perfect moment to get serious about adult degree completion.  Lumina talks about raising the postsecondary attainment level of our workforce to 60% by 2025.  In Connecticut, because we have no natural resources (gas, oil, timber, farming, etc.), we believe we must hit 70% degree attainment in our workforce within the next decade.

Nationally, the work in degree completion has been gaining strength in the past five years thanks to efforts like the Adult College Completion Network and the The Graduate! Network, Inc..  When planning the Connecticut initiative, I spoke to program directors in states including Indiana, Georgia, and Texas.  My own institution, Charter Oak State College, has been focused on helping adults complete a degree for 40 years.  But I am here today to tell you about a new program that our Governor launched which is helping shape a dynamic new approach to re-enrolling returning adult students.Go Back to Get Ahead logo

Connecticut Targets Students with Some College but No Degree

The Go Back To Get Ahead program is a direct result of Connecticut legislation: “An Act Improving College Completions.”  The bill, which went into effect July 1, 2014, seeks to encourage Connecticut residents “who previously enrolled in an associate’s or bachelor’s degree program, but left such program prior to its completion, to return to an institution of higher education to earn a degree.” The bill was amended to add residents who completed associate degrees but did not go on for their bachelor’s.

Connecticut governor Dannel P. Malloy has been the driving force for this project.  The Governor is a strong supporter of workforce improvements and, as a result, he proposed $20 million for this program; $2 million for administration and the remainder to provide financial incentives.  The program will pay for up to three free courses plus standard fees at the part time rate.  The money is paid to the colleges and deducted from each student’s bill.  To receive this incentive, students must matriculate and carry a minimum of 6 credits per semester.  Students will receive the first incentive in their first semester, the second in the next semester, and the third in their final semester (to drive completion).

The Connecticut State College and Universities system gave the project to Charter Oak State College to manage, and we began our work while the General Assembly was still debating the budget.  In May, the legislature passed a budget that included $6 million for Go Back To Get Ahead, and the program launched on June 2—just 120 days after the Governor first announced it.

The program will accept returning students from any regionally accredited institution, but only allows them to receive the incentive to return to one of the 17 colleges in the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities System (4 state universities, 12 community colleges, and 1 online college).  So GBTGA is the key enrollment growth strategy for our system.

How We Organized Go Back To Get Ahead

As I mentioned, the program is being administered by Charter Oak State College (COSC).  A small, dedicated Go Back To Get Ahead enrollment staff was hired by COSC to advise all the returning students and support the business office processes.  The Provost of COSC is the project manager.  COSC staff are taking the lead roles in marketing the project, purchasing and setting up the CRM to manage the project, training staffs at the 17 colleges to manage the referral funnel and to use the CRM, and training staff on the reimbursement process.

The Provost and her staff have committees with representation from each of the 17 colleges to develop processes, program guidelines, and eligibility requirements.  The Provost has developed a communication structure to keep the 17 colleges informed.  Charter Oak staff (the President, Provost, Marketing Director, Chief Financial Officer, Chief of Information Technology, and Director of Admissions) meet with the President of the Board of Regents regularly to keep them updated and to affirm decisions. The Connecticut Distance Learning Consortium (CTDLC) is providing its Call Center to support call overflow and off hour calls.  The program is determined to answer every call in real time.

Telling Students about Go Back To Get Ahead:  Act While Supplies Last!

Working with the information technology, institutional research, and other staff at each of the 17 colleges, COSC developed an unduplicated list of potential students (over 80,000) to invite to return to college.  A personalized letter signed by the Governor and the President of the Board of Regents (BOR) was sent during the month of June to this list of potential returnees.  This is being augmented by a statewide media campaign comprised of radio spots, social media, Internet ads, etc. and a public relations campaign featuring the Governor, President of the BOR, and other college presidents.   The campaigns and marketing will drive the potential students to a URL or phone number so they can begin the process of returning.

The project is designed to encourage the students to take action.  Students must matriculate by September 30, 2016.  The program will end June 30, 2018.  However, once the money is depleted, no additional students will be admitted.  This is the retail nature of the incentive.  It is literally, “buy one get one while supplies last.”  The early results were spectacular because this “act now” message really worked.  For Charter Oak, it was remarkable to see adult degree completers acting quickly—this never happens to us in our normal recruitment conversations.

The Response from Students Has Been Huge

Let’s look at the data.  The program is in its third week as of this writing.  Our current count for inquiries is 3,141 and we have referred 1,185 students to one of the 17 institutions.  We are converting 37% of our inquiries to referrals.  The success rate for the online inquiry form is 95.4%. That means almost everyone who starts the form finishes it.  We put a special source code on the letters we mailed to our dropouts and 885 of the inquiries are from those letters (28%).  That means that more than 70% of the inquiries are from students who heard about the offer from the media or from recipients of the letter.

It is too soon to measure the conversion rate from referrals to matriculants, but we have insisted on a 48 hour turn around for contacting referrals, and that has happened.  The institutions in our system were concerned that Charter Oak would harvest all the returning students because like Excelsior and Edison, Charter Oak State College is a degree completion specialist, with a 6 credit residency requirement, extremely flexible course transfer policies, and an aggressive approach to Prior Learning Assessment strategies (tests and portfolios).

So far Charter Oak is averaging 22% of the referrals, which seems reasonable.  That number may increase slightly over time, but students are choosing from all 17 of our institutions.  What Charter Oak provides is low cost, online, and completion friendly solution for students who are very close to attaining either the Associates or the Bachelors.  In my opinion, this is part of the special sauce that makes this program work.

What We’ve Learned So Far

So to wrap this up, the Go Back To Get Ahead program is succeeding (we may actually run out of money for free courses in 45 days at our current rate of success) because the program included the following elements:

  • Gubernatorial support (Governor Malloy is doing press conferences for the program).
  • A lead organization that can manage the project planning and deployment.
  • Retail marketing incentive (buy one, get one free).
  • Both direct mail and targeted statewide media marketing.
  • Centralized CRM system for managing enrollments, communication, and reporting.
  • An institution that specializes in degree completion (low residency requirements, liberal credit transfer policies, and adult student focus).Photo of Ed Klonoski, president of Charter Oak State College

I hope this short program description generates some interest in the topic.  I will be happy to report back in the fall when we have numbers on enrollments, institutional choices, and cost per enrollment.  Then next semester I will have numbers on persistence.  If asked, I can also share our eligibility requirements (the small print that is part of every buy one, get one offer).

Ed Klonoski
Charter Oak State College

Sloan-C, UPCEA, and WCET Partner on State Authorization Policy Recommendations

For the first time, WCET partnered with UPCEA and Sloan-C in providing recommendations on distance education policy.  We stated our positions in a letter delivered on Friday to Secretary Arne Duncan of the U.S. Department of Education.  In the letter we addressed the upcoming state authorization regulations that the Department is expected to release for public comment this summer.

Our hope is to influence the process prior to the Department publishing the regulations for public comment.  In the letter, we…The words "state authorization surrounded by all the state names.

  • Acknowledge the federal court’s recognition that the Department has the authority to issue such a regulation.
  • Express our concern that the Department’s intent to ask states to change their review procedures will cause confusion and added costs for students.
  • Present recommendations including that the Department return to the 2010 propose regulation that said that the Department would simply check that colleges are following state laws.  In addition, we also supported military exemptions (for active duty soldiers, their families, and Veterans Administration facilities), an exemption for institutions with only a few students in a state that would work better than the one currently proposed, and a requirement for notifying students about licensure requirements.  We also suggest that the Department work more directly with the states if it has concerns about existing state regulations and new federal regulations that would conflict with state requirements.

Thank You to Our Partners for Their Leadership

Mollie McGill and I wish to express our gratitude to Kathleen Ives (Sloan-C) and Robert Hansen (UPCEA-University Professional and Continuing Education Association) for their work and support in being co-sponsors of this letter.  We also with to thank our friends from the Distance Education and Training Council, National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements, Presidents’ Forum, and the United States Distance Learning Association for agreeing to lend their names as supporters.

We understand that not all of our institutions will agree with every recommendation in the letter.  We balanced several factors in our decision-making including:  existing state and federal laws, the Department’s need to protect federal financial aid funds, institutional burden in compliance, and protecting students as consumers.  The impact on students was paramount in our thinking at all times.

We Will Have a Greater Impact if Institutions Express Their Opinions

We invite you to weigh in.  You can do so now or use language from our letter.  If you prefer, you can wait until the proposed regulations are published (probably in July) and submit reactions to specific language then.  Or you can do both.

The Honorable Arne Duncan
Secretary of Education
Office of the Secretary
United States Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue S.W., Room 7W301
Washington, DC 20202

We encourage you to let your opinion be known.

And I look forward to our groups working together in the future.Photo of Russ Poulin with baseball bat


Russell Poulin
Interim Co-Executive Director
WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies


If you like our work, join WCET!

A Response to New NCES Report on Distance Education

By Phil Hill and Russ Poulin, cross-posted to e-Literate blog.

Last week the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released a new report analyzing the new IPEDS data on distance education. The report, titled Enrollment in Distance Education Courses, by State: Fall 2012, is a welcome addition to those interested in analyzing and understanding the state of distance education (mostly as an online format) in US higher education.

The 2012 Fall Enrollment component of the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) survey collected data for the first time on enrollment in courses in which instructional content was delivered exclusively through distance education, defined in IPEDS as “education that uses one or more technologies to deliver instruction to students who are separated from the instructor and to support regular and substantive interaction between the students and the instructor synchronously or asynchronously.” These Web Tables provide a current profile of enrollment in distance education courses across states and in various types of institutions. They are intended to serve as a useful baseline for tracking future trends, particularly as certain states and institutions focus on MOOCs and other distance education initiatives from a policy perspective.

We have previously done our own analysis of the new IPEDS data at both e-Literate and WCET blogs. While the new report is commendable in its improved access to the important dataset, we feel the missing analysis and potentially misleading introductory narrative takes away from the value of this report.

Value of Report

The real value of this report in our opinion is the breakdown of IPEDS data by different variables such as state jurisdiction, control of institution, sector and student level. Most people are not going to go to the trouble of generating custom tables, so including such data in a simple PDF report will go a long way towards improving access to this important data. As an example of the data provided, consider this excerpt of table 3:

Sample of part of IPEDS table with state-by-state analyses of distance ed enrollments.


The value of the data tables and the improved access to this information are precisely why we are concerned about the introductory text of the report. These reports matter.

Need for Better Analysis and Context

We were hoping to see some highlights or observations in the report, but the authors decided to present the results as “Web Tables” without any interpretation. From one standpoint, this is commendable because NCES is playing an important role in providing the raw data for pundits like us to examine. It is also understandable that since this was the first IPEDS survey regarding distance education in many years, there truly was no baseline data for comparison. Even so, a few highlights of significant data points would have been helpful.

There also is a lack of caveats. The biggest one has to do with the state-by-state analyses. Enrollments follow where the institution is located and not where the student is located while taking the distance courses. Consider Arizona: the state has several institutions (Arizona State University, Grand Canyon University, Rio Salado College, and the University of Phoenix) with large numbers of enrollments in other states. Those enrollments are all counted in Arizona, so the state-by-state comparisons have specific meanings that might not be apparent without some context provided.

Even though there are no highlights, the first two paragraphs contain a (sometimes odd) collection of references to prior research. These citations beg the question as to what the tables in this report have to say on the same points of analysis.

Postsecondary enrollment in distance education courses, particularly those offered online, has rapidly increased in recent years (Allen and Seaman 2013).

This description cites the long-running Babson Survey Research Group report by Allen and Seaman. Since the current IPEDS survey provides baseline data, there is no prior work on which to judge growth; therefore, this reference makes sense to include. It would have made sense, however, to provide some explanation of the key differences between IPEDS and Babson data. For example, Phil described in e-Literate the fact that there is major discrepancy in number of students taking at least one online course – 7.1 million for Babson and 5.5 million for IPEDS. Jeff Seaman, one of the two Babson authors, is also quoted in e-Literate on his interpretation of the differences. The NCES report would have done well to at least refer to the significant differences.

Traditionally, distance education offerings and enrollment levels have varied across different types of institutions. For example, researchers have found that undergraduate enrollment in at least one distance education course is most common at public 2-year institutions, while undergraduate enrollment in online degree programs was most common among students attending for-profit institutions.

This reference indirectly cites a previous NCES survey that used a different methodology regarding students in 2007-08.

  • That survey found that enrollment in at least one distance education course was “most common” at public 2-year colleges and the new data reaffirms that finding.
  • Enrollment in fully distance programs was “most common” in students attending for-profit institutions and the new data reaffirms that finding. However, leaving the story there perpetuates the myth that “distance education” equals “for-profit education.” The new IPEDS data show (see Table 1 below from a WCET post by Russ) that 35% of students enrolled exclusively at a distance attend for-profit institutions and only 5% of those who enroll in some (not all) distance courses attend for-profits. People are often amazed at what a big portion of the distance education market is actually in the public sector.

IPEDS Table that shows that shows full distance enrollments by sector:  47% at public colleges, 18% at non-profits, and 35% at for-profits.

A 2003 study found that historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) offered fewer distance education courses compared with other institutions, possibly due to their smaller average size (Government Accountability Office 2003)

What a difference a decade makes. Both types of institutions show few of their students enrolled completely at a distance, but they now above the national average in terms of percentage of students enrolled in some distance courses in Fall 2012.

Rapidly changing developments, including recent institutional and policy focus on massive open online courses (MOOCs) and other distance education innovations, have changed distance education offerings.

Only a small number of MOOCs offer instruction that would be included in this survey. We’re just hoping that the uniformed will not think that the hyperbolic MOOC numbers have been counted in this report. They have not.

Upcoming Findings on Missing IPEDS Data

We are doing some additional research, but it is worth noting that we have found some significant cases of undercounting in the IPEDS data. In short, there has been confusion over which students get counted in IPEDS reporting and which do not. We suspect that the undercounting, which is independent of distance education status, is in the hundreds of thousands. We will describe these findings in an upcoming article.

In summary, the new NCES report is most welcome, but we hope readers do not make incorrect assumptions based on the introductory text of the report.Photo of Phil Hill


Phil Hill
e-Literate blog


Russ PoulinPhoto of Russ Poulin with baseball bat
WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies


If you’re not already a member, come join us!

From the D.O.C. to Doc: The Role of Education in My Incarceration

Deb Gearhart, Ohio University, recently told me the inspiring story of one of their distance graduates who overcame several life challenges on his road to a degree.  After several youthful bad decisions, this student was sentenced to life imprisonment through California’s three-strike rule.  We are very pleased that this student has agreed to share his story about how he turned his life around and the role of education in his journey.  Inspiring!
Russ Poulin

Undoubtedly, amongst the most amazing sights to behold upon entering San Quentin State Prison are the randomly scattered, too high and remote to displace, wildflowers growing out of the cold, hard and otherwise desolate granite boulders that make up the seemingly impregnable perimeter walls. A casual observer may easily miss these or mistake them for something less significant, but a discerning eye, born of familiarity with such wonders, will see them for what they truly are: Life in spite of…

My story is an embodiment of that natural phenomenon: the aspiration of tiny seeds taking root in the most hopeless circumstances, against all odds, and endeavoring to bear fruit.

Photo of Sajad Sakoor

Sajad Sakoor went from “three strikes” imprisonment to a bachelor’s degree.

From the Despair of Prison the Hope from Education

When I, as a young man, went to prison with a twenty-five to life sentence, I resolved to convince myself that I would never again have an opportunity to matter – to be of any importance to anyone, that I should be content with spending the rest of my life in a cage. For several years I sought refuge in this newly carved niche of hopelessness and despondency, even gaining a perverse sense of succor from it. But then, almost miraculously, some seeds of wisdom were planted and – with education providing the proper nourishment – my sense of self-worth and efficacy evolved from one of obscurity (in every sense of its Latin origin) to one of hope and awareness. I’ve been pursuing higher education ever since.
I have come to believe in the redemptive power of education:

  • how it inspires hope for the future;
  • how it enables one to better position himself/herself in society;
  • how it facilitates the transition of all people, incarcerated or not, from beneficiaries to benefactors;
  • how it transforms the individual, making him/her a beacon and source of guidance for others.

This education helped me realize my own human potential and gave me the wherewithal to maximize it, making me a force multiplier for effectuating change in others. Indeed, for the duration of my seventeen years in prison, I either stood in front of a white board and taught or was preoccupied with benefiting from the instruction of others. Even when we did not have boards, markers, or classroom access – having to convene on the yard in less than ideal weather, we persevered.
Having seen and felt the impact of knowledge, I could not now go back to a state of ignorance. But it was not always this way.

From a Life Sentence to a Life of Learning and Service

The experiences and circumstances of my youth – which would inevitably predispose me to a life of crime and incarceration – were for so long predicated on a profound sense of ignorance. This lack of education, once it takes hold, has debilitating effects on the people: socio-economic conditions are weakened, access to resources is diminished, and establishment of preventative measures (which could have inoculated against the impending malady of drugs, gangs, and violence) become unattainable.

The natural corollary for this fatalistic condition was not only crime, but also an addition to that destructive criminal lifestyle which seemed to be the panacea for all afflictions, a respite from the doldrums. My life had devolved to such a point in this situation that I would find the gates of prison welcoming me while still a teenager. Having not learned the lessons therein, I would – less than two years after release – find my way back to that very dungeon; this time with a life sentence.

This time would be different though. This time I would meet volunteers who came into prison every day to teach us. This time I would see the impact of education on a people who lacked it for so long. This time I would be surrounded by a caring people, a people who only cared to serve the greater good. This time I would see the essence and embodiment of altruism, of helping others realize their best. Having witnessed this example of magnanimity, having been cultivated by it, I would never be the same again.

Whereas before my conduct was based on a predetermined archetypical behavioral model – defined by the criminal lifestyle, a model that used the example of power as a means to garner influence, I now saw the world through a completely different lens. I saw the world as a hopeful place, a place where so many could be impelled to do better just by coinciding with an example of goodness. I would come to believe for all times that it is not the example of power, but rather the power of the example that wins the day.

My incarceration thereafter is replete with instances of living up to this example of selfless service to others: I taught a formal G.E.D. preparatory class, tutored in adult basic education, started five self-help groups, created the curricula for these groups, facilitated the daily discussion groups, taught Islamic studies, participated in gang intervention symposiums, started gang intervention groups, and gave back in ways that I couldn’t even fathom when I first entered prison.

Photo of Ohio University graduates.

You can find Sajad in the bottom left corner with his fellow Ohio University graduates.

From a Distance, I Became a College Graduate

I enrolled in college with my own hard earned money from prison labor and sacrificed until I finally earned the Bachelor’s Degree from The Ohio University through its correspondence program aimed at serving incarcerated students. In fact, it was because of this degree and this new-found belief in exploring and maximizing human potential, a belief founded on and reinforced with education, that I was able to eventually secure my own freedom; a freedom that I could not have ever envisioned.

Shortly after release, I was accepted into the PhD program at the Western Institute for Social Research. I am not only employed as a teacher at a non-profit, which establishes educational programs for prisoners, but also plan on working with other non-profits and our elected officials to bring attention to the issues that affect the incarcerated.

Whether it is the causative or contributory factors that facilitate incarceration, or that predispose some to recidivate after release, I intend to study these at the grad level and work collaboratively with others to find meaningful solutions. My doctorate will be not only in service of those who need it the most, but also a testament to the transformative power of education. I will have proven that an investment in education can take a person from the Department of Corrections (D.O.C.) to being a doctor.

It was a discerning eye that saw the seedling that pushed through the granite boulders in spite of everything designed to hold it back. It will take more discerning eyes to help it grow. It will take more helping hands to nurture those seedlings so they spawn other seedlings. Eventually, the overwhelming volume and force can cover the prison walls and growing roots that are strong enough to tear those walls down.

We must have that discerning eye. We must have those helping hands. We can matter in their lives so their lives can matter.

Sajad Shakoor
Ohio University
Class of 2014

State Authorization Negotiated Rulemaking: What Happened? What’s Next?

The U.S Department of Education’s Negotiated Rulemaking process is designed to advise the Department on regulations that they are seeking to implement or change. Negotiators are chosen to represent the different constituencies that have an interest in the outcome.

Thanks to support from many of you, I was selected to be the negotiator representing the distance education community on the latest “NegReg” (as it is affectionately called) committee. One of the six issues under consideration was the return of the federal state authorization for distance education regulation that had originally been issued in 2010, but had been set aside by the courts on procedural grounds.

On Tuesday May 20, the Committee we had our final vote on the proposed language. I voted “no.” I was joined in withholding consent by all the representatives of every higher education sector. Nine out of sixteen negotiators voting “no” is a high ratio.

Although we made much progress, there were some items that I could not support. In this blog post I will outline my views on what happened. These are purely my observations and opinions.

Picture of Russ Poulin at Nationals (baseball) Park in Washington DC.

Celebrating the end of Negotiated Rulemaking. One reg was harder to stomach than a hot dog at Nationals Park…but that’s another story.

My Position on Authorization

So that you know where I’m coming from, unlike many in the distance education community, I believe that the states still are responsible for consumer protection and that institutions should follow state laws. I don’t agree with all their laws and regulations and processes and whatnot, but I’d rather work to fix them or create alternatives, like reciprocity.

I also believe the Department should be able to use a college’s authorization status in a state as a determining factor for eligibility for federal financial aid. I do not believe that the Department should impose its will as to what the states should use as authorization criteria.

We Made Progress!

The original regulation (§600.9(c)) issued in 2010 was only two sentences long. The last proposed draft covered 8 pages, 15 sections, and spilled over into another regulation. This wordiness was sometimes due to a propensity to use ten words where one would suffice, but I will not dwell on that fact…even though it bothers me. On the positive side, there were clarifications that arose from questions uncovered by the original language.

Items that I liked:

  • The concept of an interstate reciprocity agreement was recognized as one of two methods for achieving authorization. The second is directly being authorized by a state.
  • An institution authorized in its home state is considered authorized for the purposes of providing federal financial aid to students in a foreign country. This had been an open question.
  • Under certain conditions, members of the armed forces, their spouses, or their children would continue to be authorized for the purposes of federal financial aid if they move to another state. This conflicts with state laws, but would hope that we could work with states figure this out. Additionally, I’ve since had a great conversation with the Veterans Administration and I think we need to consider some form of exemption for students interning at VA Hospitals. As you may have heard, they already have enough other problems.

The Line in the Sand: Disallowing Exemptions

The main point of contention was around paragraph (8)(i), which (in the last official draft) read:

An institution is not considered to be authorized to offer postsecondary distance or correspondence education in a State for purposes of institutional eligibility for funding under the HEA if it is exempt from State approval or licensure requirements based solely on accreditation. years in operation, or other comparable exemption.

In an earlier section, states were also asked to identify institutions authorized in their state “by name.”

The Department’s Position on Exemptions

The Department asserts that the accountability “Triad” is based upon action by three partners:

  • Accrediting agencies review institutions and grant accreditation based on quality considerations.
  • States review institutions and authorize them to operate in their state based upon consumer protection considerations.
  • The U.S. Department of Education uses the actions of the accreditors and the states as the base (but not only) criteria for allowing an institution to offer federal financial aid.

The Department reasons that if the state is using only accreditation for its review, then there really is no longer a Triad. Accreditation criteria are the only considerations that have been reviewed. The Department included other perfunctory criteria (such as years in operation or physical presence in a state) as similar examples of review criteria that they deem inadequate for purposes of effective state oversight.

Other negotiators supported this position by saying that if there is no review in a state, then the “bad actor” institutions will be free to harm students in those states. I believe that there are students who are being harmed. I have talked to enough students to cringe at the actions of selected colleges from all higher education sectors.

My Objections

This is all good in theory, but it is not defensible in reality.

Students will be hurt in the short time for dubious long-term gain. While states would endeavor to implement this new rule, institutions that are currently operating legally in dozens of states will have their status called into question. What will be the new authorization criteria for a state? What will they charge an institution to be reviewed? Will my institution decide to remain serving students in that state?

I applaud the Department personnel for proposing a three-year timeline with the possibility for extension to help ease the burden of implementation. I’m unconvinced that the promised added protections will outweigh the added costs to students and the confusion that will accompany the new limbo status in each state of nearly all institutions teaching students at a distance.

“Active review” is not very active…and does not add to consumer protection. The Department sought an “active review” of colleges offering distance education from states. As defined, it required a state to review only a few more items to make the review active. Examples cited of what activities comprised an “active review” involved choosing from a list that included: the institution’s fiscal viability, student refund policy, the institution’s history in providing distance education, and others. My guess is that most states would tend to perform the minimum required. This has been confirmed in conversations with a few state regulators. If that’s the case, then this proposal does not provide the additional consumer protection that some cited as being the reason for this requirement. What’s the point of all this disruption for no benefit?

“Active review” would be tough to implement.     Reviewing a few more documents sounds simple enough, but state regulators must have laws and regulations that guide their actions. Implementation would require each state:

  • Changing legislation and/or regulations.
  • Developing implementation processes, including funding mechanisms. Students will ultimately bear the additional cost.
  • Staffing the review process. Most states are not interested in adding more staff.
  • Conducting the review process on all the institutions already legally operating in that state.
  • If it does not already exist, creating a public list of authorized institutions.

Multiply that times most every state (we think about 45 states would need to take these actions) and this is not easy. It will be tough to get legislative attention to pass a law that will help institutions from other states, even though those institutions are serving people residing in their state. In fact some legislators might see it as an opportunity to keep institutions out of their state through inaction.

If we are doing the right thing for students, then being “tough to implement” would not be a reasonable objection. Since there is no real benefit to students, then it would be more prudent to focus each state’s limited compliance resources where they will benefit students.

Leave the determination with the state. Unfortunately, state regulators were not represented among the negotiators. At a recent meeting of state regulators, a representative of the Department presented the recommendations. There was a very high level of concern about the proposed language. One regulator told me privately that he was not aware of any uptick in complaints that he could attribute to the growth in distance education. The regulators are closest to what needs to be done. If they think additional regulation or oversight is needed, then they propose it. If some states are neglecting their duties, then let’s develop a process to engage the regulatory community in defining best practices and implementing processes that definitely will help students. This back door process of expecting colleges from other states to pressure states to better regulate them does not strike me as a recipe for successfully meeting student needs.

The words "state authorization surrounded by all the state names.Three Controversial Items: Minimums, the Death Penalty, and Licensure Notifications

De Minimis is More Confusing than Helpful

The Department added two minimum thresholds under which an institution would not need to seek authorization (for purposes of federal financial aid) in a state. A college would not need to seek authorization if it:

  1. Offers less than 50 percent or more of a postsecondary program through distance or correspondence education in that state; and
  2. Does not exceed an unduplicated headcount of 30 students a year in that state.

The idea was to relieve colleges from having to go through authorization for only a few students in a state. A great idea!

HOWEVER, a later section says that the institution must meet “the additional requirements for legal authorization in that State as the State may establish.” What does that mean? If a state requires that you obtain authorization for serving only one student at a distance, then the state’s stricter standard is now the Department’s standard in that state. I’m still hard-pressed to think of a single situation where these provisions will help. They were kind-hearted (and the first one matches other federal requirements), but in the end have no effect but to cause confusion.

If You Lose Authorization, the Financial Aid Death Penalty is Immediate

If your institutions loses authorization in a state, then you must immediately notify your students and immediately stop disbursing federal financial aid. I call it the death penalty because, as written, the language is a guillotine hanging above the heads of institution.

We agree with the Department that if the removal of authorization is “for cause” (the institution is found negligent in treating students) then that college should no longer receive aid. Hand me the draw string for that sharp blade hanging over that college’s head.

But, what if the reason were a clerical oversight, such as “oops, our check for fees was lost in the mail” or “we missed a deadline by a few days”? I also cited two examples of outrageous actions by states. California once defunded its oversight office leaving colleges in the lurch. A few years ago, Maryland gave institutions two months to comply with a complex set of new regulations and (at the same time) they had tremendous staff turnover. Both situations left institutions officially unauthorized in those states through actions outside of their control.

The Department was uncomfortable with including language to allow for a redress period or flexibility for the Department to review extraordinary cases. Who will get punished? Students.

Notifying Students about Licensure Programs

The most calls that I have received from students has been in regards to the failure of institutions to notify students whether its programs in licensed professions (such as Nursing, teacher ed, psychology) meet important criteria in the student’s state. A regulation compelling notification to students of an institution’s ability to meet licensure requirements in a state is needed.

The last proposal would not allow an institution to enroll a student in a licensure program if it did not meet the academic criteria for that student to receive certification or sit for licensure exams in the student’s state. An exception would be allowed if the student signs a waiver demonstrating the student’s understanding of this shortfall.

One kicker on this issue, the Department wishes to issue this rule for ALL institutions, not just those teaching students in other states via distance education. In that case, the college would need to meet the regulations of the state in which it is located, not the student’s home state…as I understand it.

Proposed Timeline for Enforcement

Although it is not explicit in the text, upon direct questioning the Department personnel said that they were recommending that institutions be given until July 1, 2018 to be in full compliance in all states in which they serve students at a distance.

Next steps

You are thinking: “So….Russ, if this language got thrown out, why did you spend sooooo much blog space telling us about it?”

Since we did not reach consensus, the Department is free to issue its own language for public comment. July would seem like a reasonable timeframe for them to do so. Based on the feedback they receive, the Department will respond and issue a final regulation by the end of October of this year.My guess is that the current language will be the basis for what they propose.

BUT, we should try to influence the process both before and during the comment period. There are conversations happening among distance education leaders, higher education leaders, state regulators, and others.

It would be good to develop as consistent a message as possible. I have seen letters for others that essentially object to the whole notion of state authorization, but provide no vision for moving forward. In my opinion, we have a duty to help provide that vision.

We will be coming back to you for help in getting this message out. Be prepared. Thank you for persisting.Photo of Russ Poulin with baseball bat


Russell Poulin
Interim Co-Executive Director
WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies

If you like our work, join WCET!

Glimpse into WCET Leadership Summit: Designing Alternative Pathways to Credentials

May 7th & 8th, 2014 Salt Lake City was again host to a bevy of WCET’ers, gathered to discuss how we in higher education can adopt, adapt and administer high quality credentials in new ways utilizing tools like competency based education, badges and prior learning assessment. What follows are highlights of the agenda, however, recordings of the main panels are available on the Summit page along with a considerable number of resources.

Day One

Panel: Defining Alternative Pathways

Photo by Daniel Oines via CC

Photo by Daniel Oines via CC

Karen Solomon, vice president, accreditation relations, Higher Learning Commission served as the moderator, setting the tone for the panel that they would be sharing the broad perspective of what defining alternative pathways means at a higher level than individual institutions.

Sally Johnstone, vice president, academic advancement, Western Governors University shared these key points:

  • Competency-Based Education (CBE) is pervasive across education– it’s flipping the relationship between time and learning.
  • CBE puts the student at the front of the learning – it’s enabling individualized learning.
  • When planned and implemented properly, CBE can lower the costs and keep them lower, as well as sustainable across time.

Next we heard  from Mary Alice McCarthy, senior policy analyst, New America Foundation.  Her key points:

  • Competency: A clearly defined & MEASURABLE statement of knowledge, skill or ability.
  • Title IV regulations require mapping competencies back to credit or clock hours make it very difficult to do non-course based CBE.
  • Institutions need to gather more evidence of the effectiveness of their CBE programs.
  • Competencies are a unifying currency for credentials, increasing inter-operability between credentialing systems.

Finally for this panel, Iris Palmer, senior policy analyst, National Governors Association shared their perspective:

  • How do you start to move the perceptions of what ‘college’ is? How do you move these conversations at the policy level?
    • If you have to change the way policymakers view higher education, you have to change the way the public sees higher education.
  • The ‘state of the state’ is that there is not a lot of conversation happening, most states are warily eyeing CBE.
  • Unbundled faculty role can be scary for faculty who have no idea what it will look like, what it will mean for them.
  • Good examples are:
    • Kentucky: statewide model of a technology platform.
    • Texas: informing the state legislative bodies on CBE developments.
    • Wisconsin: communications are so important – including differentiated messaging for the audiences (faster, cheaper is better when you’re talking about the business side of the institutions, but it’s not the message you want to send to faculty or students who prefer a quality education).

During the Q&A, David Porter (@dendroglyph) posed the question via twitter, “When will we agree that flexible education models that include #cbe #oer #badges are part of the future HE trajectory?#wcetsummit14

Panel: Innovative Models

This panel, moderated by Patricia Book, WCET Fellow, highlighted the lessons learned by five model programs. Here are the highlights from each talk, outlined by speaker.

Alison Leigh Brown, associate vice president, academic affairs, Northern Arizona University

  • Technology makes it possible to assess everything, track everything in CBE programs, however Alison reminded us that we must include the human element as well.

Greg Fowler, chief academic officer and vice president, academic administration, Southern New Hampshire University’s College of Online and Continuing Education

  • In designing CBE programs maintain your focus and determine your ‘non-negotiables” from the very beginning.
  • Focus on student success and don’t try to ‘outdo’ other businesses (i.e. Don’t try to out-Facebook Facebook.)

Al Lind, vice president, innovation and e-learning, Kentucky Council on Post secondary Education

  • Adjuncts are paid per student, and set the number of students they are willing to have in a course, in KY.
  • CBE programs in KY offered 24 hour advising…it became so popular they expanded it to all students. This advising has been outsourced to Blackboard.

Laura Pedrick, executive director, UWM Online, University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee

  • Many CBE programs are targeted to specific student populations.  For the Flex Program, their ‘sweet spot’ are returning adults who have some credit but no degree and some work experience.
  • In designing CBE programs, be sure to engage the library – librarians know to package the learning resources most effectively.

Linda Schott, president, University of Maine at Presque Isle

  • Personalized learning changes everything!
  • Used brain/cognitive science to help make the case for CBE  to faculty.

Panel: Campus Infrastructure Issues

Hae Okimoto, director, academic technologies, University of Hawai’i system, invited panelist and the audience to grapple with consideration of the infrastructure needs which need to be filled to successfully implement CBE on campus.

Christi Amato, student support lead, TAACCCT Grant, Sinclair Community College

  • The top considerations for implementing CBE are:
    • What will the culture of the institution support?
    • Are there already natural ‘owners’ of the functions for CBE?
    • Who will own the student experience? CBE is an inherently solitary path and students need to be supported to be successful.
    • How will data support the desired outcomes of the CBE program?

Robert Collins, vice president, financial aid, Western Governors University

  • Involve your financial aid office early in the planning process.
  • The language around what qualifies a student for financial aid are complex but boil down to three touchpoints for students – admitted, enrolled and making satisfactory academic progress.

Peter Janzow, open badges lead and senior director of business & market development, Pearson

  • Used the analogy of travel as a parallel for CBE: the digital world supports travelers well – GPS, travel agents, multi-modalities, BYOD, social, sharing.
    • Humans bring their academic ‘baggage’ to education just as they bring luggage for travel.
    • In CBE, you have to support the whole human, not just the student.
  • Badges are empty containers that need to be filled with competencies and achievements.
    • Help students articulate to an employer their competencies and achievements, making outcomes more transparent.

Michael Reilly, executive director, American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO)

  • In planning CBE, it’s important to consider the electronic transfer of credentials. Involve your registrar in the process.
    • 42% of students who earn their first credential transferred at least once.
  • Be prepared to translate learning outcomes into a conventional format.
  • Don’t forget to consider ‘special populations’ like dual enrollment students and returning veterans in developing your CBE program.

Moderated Discussion of top issues

Karen Solomon, vice president, accreditation relations, Higher Learning Commission, helped wrap up day one by moderating a discussion of the top take aways from the two break out sessions.  Highlights include:

  • Need to create value for learners through clear translation to credentials & by making CBE affordable in means of not only tuition money paid but the time & opportunity costs to students.
  • Most destructive phrase in any innovation, including crafting CBE: We’ve always done it that way.
  • Student Information Systems (SIS) are a focus for CBE, the Learning Management System (LMS) is not so much of an issue.
  • Badges have been implemented in many different ways
    • connects those who are looking for employment and employers based on badges necessary to perform the job.
    • BadgesforVets connects employers with veterans looking for work by matching badges vets have earned based on their military service.
    • The Badge Alliance – a network of organizations and individuals building and enhancing an open badging ecosystem
    • Videos from the Badges: New Currency for Professional Credentials MOOC/community are available on the WCET YouTube page.
  • There are concerns about ground level pedagogical issues – how it is done and how mastery levels are determined.
  • The question was raised: What happens when we find out something that’s good for the student is not good for the institution?
  • One A-ha! Moment shared: Think of CBE as less of a threat to either online or on-campus learning and more as another modality option.
  • Key needs addressed by CBE are learning validation & context translation/relevancy for broad career portability.

Day Two

Panel: Important Alternative Models for Best Serving the Student

Mary Alice McCarthy, senior policy analyst, New America Foundation served as the moderator for the morning session on day two in which panelists shared their  models – from badges to prior learning assessment and proprietary exams that translate into credit for students and what employers think of these models.

Carla Casilli, director, design and practice, Badge Alliance

  • Badges are stackable lifelong credentials and ways of mapping learning pathways connecting formal and informal learning.
  • OpenBadges is software developed by Mozilla which allows badge earners to store the meta-data that backs up their badges such as criteria, issuer, issue date, expiration date (if any), evidence URL and more.
  • The Badge Alliance is an outgrowth of Open Badges and is framed on a constellation model of working groups to develop the ecosystem that spans across subjects and a lifetime for students.

Grady Cope, president, Reata Engineering

  • Modern manufacturing has jobs, but many jobseekers don’t realize that they are no longer ‘smokestack’ jobs- they are more like a 3D environment seen in video games, but real.
  • For employers, credentialing of technical skills is important, but so is credentialing of skills such as teamwork, problem solving, leadership, critical thinking.
  • Involve employers as advisors to help shape programs, to ensure they meet the employers’ needs.
  • Can we better match student vision with industry need through CBE?

Steve Ernst, vice president, innovation and strategy, Excelsior College

  • Excelsior operates under the philosophy “What you know is more important than where or how you learned it.”
  • Excelsior uses a variety of models including: prior learning assessment, credit by exam, CBE, and online courses – all models leverage a common learning outcomes and competency framework.

Nan Travers, director, college- wide academic review, Empire State College

  • Empire State allows students to design their own degree within 13 areas of study.  All outcomes-based and PLA can be applied to any part of their degree.
  • Empire State participates in Open SUNY which gives all SUNY students access to online, 100% competency-based programs with open textbooks and OERs.
  • The State University of New York Center for the Recognition of Experiential and Academic Learning (SUNY REAL) will evaluate learning regardless of where, when, or how you acquired it as long as you can document your learning and it can be verified at the college/university level.

Panel: Business of Designing Alternative Pathways to Credentials

Jane Nichols, interim vice president of academic affairs, Truckee Meadows Community College moderated this panel exploring the key business models that have enabled new approaches to work in colleges.

Alison Leigh Brown, associate vice president, academic affairs, Northern Arizona University

  • NAU Personalized Learning is a subscription model – students can earn as much as they want in each six month period.  The model can sustain because they have unbundled both the faculty and student services roles – able to serve more students, better.
  • Involved faculty & student services from the beginning in an agile design model –short meetings with both sides involved.
  • Be obsessive compulsive about documenting everything.  Create orientation tutorials/videos for every role involved in the process.
  • The best recruiting tool is word of mouth from students.

Van Davis, director, higher education innovations, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board

  • Texas has implemented the $10,000 baccalaureate and is stepping up effortst o help students who have college credit but no degree.
  • Education affordability is a civil rights issue.
  • CBE programs are expensive to start but after 5 years, in part due to scalability, they are in the black and start-up expenses are recouped.
  • Administrative and IT systems infrastructure are often the tail wagging the dog – legacy systems.
  • TX uses humans to do what humans do best and leverages technology & predictive analytics to improve affordability.

Greg Fowler, chief academic officer and vice president, academic administration, Southern New Hampshire University’s College of Online and Continuing Education (COCE)

  • Keep your egos in check. Stay clear about your mission – everything doesn’t need to be fixed.
  • Define a culture and protect your brand. Understand your mission & the environment in which you’re operating. Live your brand.
  • Academic quality is critical, but so are support services – most cited by students as critical to success.  Understand that academics will never be top priority for most of your students – it’s third at best – 1. Family 2. Job. Life is going to happen.
  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes – some things are not going to work.  To enter the CBE field, you must also be comfortable with ambiguity & failure.

Al Lind, vice president, innovation and e-learning, Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education

  • Higher education’s weakness has always been in its business models.
  • KY Council on Postsecondary Education used a loan model, like a business start up would, for its CBE offerings.
  • Adjunct faculty who teach in the KY programs are paid on a per student basis (and set the number of students per course) and are paid bonuses for performance.
  • KY is bundling course materials with tuition for CBE programs.  Students were trying to pass courses without the materials –it wasn’t working.
  • Suggests those of us pursuing CBE programs read the Innovator’s series by Clayton M. Christensen, a noted author on the management of innovation and change.

Heard in the breakout discussion groups…

  • Degrees aren’t always translatable. What does it mean? What can you do and understand?
  • Liberal arts need to be woven into the hard skills based coursework towards CBE.
  • How do you build a reputation around a credential? Trust is a human factor.
  • Is cannibalization an issue? Are you training faculty just to have them swooped up by other institutions looking to implement CBE?
  • Great question: What is needed from doctoral granting institutions in order to produce the type of faculty we need to run CBE programs? (No one had gone there yet, but it intrigued the group.)
  • Degrees mean something. Degrees are not meaningless but they are not meaningful either.
  • Accreditors look to make sure that the plan is full embedded – that the strategy has been accepted throughout the ranks and is not a giant tree being held by a single root.
  • Fear of change was a common theme when discussing resistance to CBE.
  • Greg Fowler: When we say change, we think progress. When faculty hear change, they think correction (i.e. “what I’ve been doing is wrong.”)
  • Darcy Hardy: Discussing faculty fear: This is the same list as when we started online ed in 1998!

Closing Session: Recap of the Summit in Your Voice: The Most Interesting and/or Useful Takeaways

Peter Smith, senior vice president, Kaplan Higher Education Group lead this discussion with the whole group.  Rather than recreating the wheel, please view the live-blogged notes from Karen Solomon via padlet on this session.


CBE summit wordle 3Where do we go from here?

We welcome you to continue the discussion here on the Frontiers blog, through our members-only discussion list, on social media and in-person in Portland, OR this fall for the 26th WCET Annual Meeting November 19 – 21, 2014.  Thank you to all who attended, enhancing our conversations with each of your unique perspectives and to our fabulous sponsors who make these conversations possible.  Additionally, I’d like to thank the following WCET’ers for sharing their notes with me, to help make this summary as comprehensive as possible – Patricia Book, Pat James Hanz, Mollie McGill and Megan Raymond.


See you in Portland!

Photo of Cali Morrison

Cali Morrison
WCET, Manager, Communications
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