Colleges Crossing Borders – Counts and State Authorization: IPEDS Reality Check

March 11, 2014

This is the third in a series of blog posts examining data recently released by the U.S. Department of Education’s IPEDS survey on distance education (DE) enrollments. Our first blog post in this series looked at students enrolled exclusively or partially in distance education courses.  Our second reviewed the geographic location of the students.  What about the number of institutions serving students out-of-state and the policy implications? Thank you Terri Straut for the data analysis. 

In thinking about how the IPEDS data and authorization issues, I added my thoughts on how this data intersects with the policy implications of the authorization debate at both the state and federal levels. I was selected as one of the negotiators in the current round of Negotiated Rulemaking for the Department of Education.  State Authorization for distance education is one of the issues we are reviewing.  In this post, issues are raised that I’ve heard both from negotiators and higher education community, at large.  I’m hoping that data will help to inform decisions, but I’m weird that way.
Russ Poulin

The Fall 2012 IPEDS data give us an opportunity to understand the magnitude of the state authorization compliance issue. One component of the WCET analysis of the IPEDS data is to identify how many institutions in the U.S enroll students exclusively in DE who reside outside of the institution’s home state or outside the U.S.  IPEDS did not ask in which states those students are enrolled.

Wall of signs from many cities

Institutions are supposed to know where their students are located. Do they?

Institutions Reporting Students Outside Their State or Outside the U.S.
All 50 states report some out-of-state enrollments in exclusively DE courses. Some of these institutions have thousands of out-of-state students, while some just have a handful, but the need for state authorization in all states usually remains the same regardless of the number of students enrolled in a given state.

Every state has institutions that report having students who are exclusively enrolled in DE courses and are located either outside the state of the IHE or outside the U.S. There were 2,129 institutions, 45% of the total of all degree-granting institutions, who reported serving exclusively DE students residing outside of their state. In addition, 940 institutions (20%) report having international students enrolled in exclusively DE courses.

State

State Total of IHEs reporting students who are exclusively DE & OUTSIDE their state

State Total of IHEs reporting students who are exclusively DE & OUTSIDE the U.S.

AK

7

4

AL

40

8

AR

33

8

AZ

45

15

CA

115

125

CO

49

25

CT

27

9

DC

11

6

DE

8

0

FL

87

35

GA

66

23

HI

14

9

IA

43

14

ID

8

6

IL

92

44

IN

42

20

KS

44

18

KY

47

15

LA

25

8

MA

61

27

MD

39

19

ME

13

9

MI

64

28

MN

74

18

MO

68

28

MS

27

7

MT

12

6

NC

68

24

ND

14

10

NE

25

15

NH

17

4

NJ

35

11

NM

25

10

NV

11

4

NY

110

57

OH

87

25

OK

43

24

OR

36

18

PA

98

42

RI

7

3

SC

33

16

SD

19

7

TN

40

13

TX

114

54

UT

21

5

VA

57

36

VT

11

6

WA

22

5

WI

44

9

WV

23

5

WY

8

3

Total # IHEs reporting

2,129

940

The counts include only those institutions that enrolled at least one student who met the following two criteria in Fall 2012: a) he or she was taking all of her or his courses at a distance; b) the student was out-of-state or out-of-country.   These numbers are not cumulative across a row as the institutions that are enrolling students outside the country are often a subset of those that enroll students outside their own state.

States with Large and Small Numbers of Institutions Serving Out-of-state Institutions
State analysis indicates that larger states with higher numbers of IHEs are more likely to have numerous institutions who report out-of-state enrollment. California 115, Texas 114, and New York 100 have the most number of institutions who report exclusively DE enrollments where the student is known to be located out-of-state.  Predictably, smaller states with fewer IHEs report fewer institutions with known out-of-state students, Alaska and Rhode Island both report 7 schools, but that is nearly all of the institutions in their states.

State Authorization Policy Implications
It is clear that there are a great number of institutions that should be seeking state authorization in the states where they serve students, if they have not already done so.  Since the survey did not ask about the specific states in which their students resided, it is impossible to determine from the IPEDS data how many institutions may or may not be in compliance.

There are some policy implications, especially as the U.S. Department of Education’s Negotiated Rulemaking Team is considering the return of the federal state authorization regulation:

  • A large number of institutions are involved in cross-border distance education.  2,129 institutions (or nearly 45% of all IHEs) enroll students outside of their home state.  When the federal regulation was introduced in October 2010, Department representatives thought that only a small number of institutions would need to seek authority.   Similarly, many state regulators are “overwhelmed” by stacks of 400-500 letters that they have received. There could be many more coming.
  • There still are a large number of institutions out-of-compliance.  In an on-going series of surveys that WCET has conducted with UPCEA, respondents are asked about their progress in addressing state authorization requirements.  In 2013, about 15% were in full compliance.  In the (yet to be released) 2014 results, the number in compliance grew by almost 10%, but there are still about one-in-five institutions that have not submitted a single application.  It is suspected that those out-of-compliance tended not to complete the survey. If that is true, applying those percentages to the 2,129 institutions offering DE outside their boundaries makes for a large number of institutions still needing (or possibly needing) to comply.
  • There is still much resistance to the notion of state authorization.  Both institutional deeds (in not complying) and in words (in being vocal about not wanting state authorization) show that there is opposition to a federal regulation returning.  We have heard institutional personnel claim that it is their constitutional right to serve students anywhere and that consumer protection regulations outside of authorization will protect students.  Consumer protection advocates point to the removal of state authorization as the removal of a necessary tool for students to combat unfair practices by powerful universities.
  • The timeline for compliance could be difficult to set.  If the federal regulation were to return, setting a compliance timeline will be tricky.  Those for a short timeline claim that institutions have known about the requirements and should have been seeking approvals.  Those asking for a longer timeline cite the larger number of institutions still out of compliance and the inability of states to handle a large number of applications in what they might consider.
  • The state regulations are still in place.  Until the courts were to rule otherwise, the state regulations have been and still are in place. There is no current court challenge of state sovereignty over distance education. If there were, it could take awhile to be resolved.  Meanwhile, states still expect institutions to be in compliance with their laws.

Institutions Serving Students Internationally
The issue of international student enrollments in exclusively DE programs is also evident from the data reported. There is no data about where these students are in the world in the current data reported.

Our analysis reveals that 940 institutions reported having students from outside the U.S. exclusively in DE courses. The same three states lead, California 125, New York 57, and Texas with 54 institutions reporting serving students from out of the U.S. in exclusively DE courses.  It is interesting to note that California is the only state that reports more institutions serving students outside the country than in other U.S. states.  In looking at border states, some states (i.e., North Dakota at 14 out-of-state and 10 out-of-country) have a larger percentage of their institutions also serving students in other countries.  While Arizona has many institutions serving students in other states, only about one-third of that total amount serve students in other countries.

State Authorization Policy Implications of International Students
It is clear that institutions who serve international students need to have clear policies, procedures, and services in place for those students.  Those institutions also need to be aware of restrictions of serving students in other countries imposed by those countries or by U.S. laws.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Negotiated Rulemaking Team is considering a state authorization regulation regarding U.S. students in foreign locations. The first meeting of the Negotiated Rulemaking Committee limited that issue to U.S. institutions having stand-alone campuses or locations in other countries.  It excluded partnerships with foreign institutions and distance education in other countries.  If the rulemaking expands to include a question about who authorizes the ability of an institution to serve U.S. citizens in other countries, then the scope of this possible regulation expands greatly.  As of today, there is no sign that this expansion will occur.

Conclusion
The new IPEDS data reveals interesting information about the current state of distance education in the U.S. Analysis of the available IPEDS data elicits questions that cannot be answered by the data provided at this time. Longitudinal analysis at the institutional level may also reveal interesting trends. This data represents an important benchmark for institutional leaders responsible for compliance; regulators and policy-makers who are working to create a more manageable state authorization processes. It will be interesting to track the growth of this industry with comprehensive data over time.Photo of Terri Straut

Terri Straut
Ascension Consulting
terri_straut@msn.com

Russ PoulinPhoto of Russ Poulin with baseball bat
Interim Co-Executive Director
WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies
rpoulin@wiche.edu

Photo Credit:  Morgue File.

If you like our work, join WCET!

One Comment

  1. Glynn Cavin
    Posted March 11, 2014 at 11:30 am | Permalink | Reply

    Russ,
    I for one am really glad you are there representing us – couldn’t be in better hands. You will add fair reasoning to the process. I noted with interest your comment that: “When the federal regulation was introduced in October 2010, Department representatives thought that only a small number of institutions would need to seek authority.”
    No surprise – another example of Federal level regulators not understanding the “industry” they wish to regulate. Makes one wonder what else they don’t know about the diversity of characteristics and needs that make up the non-traditional online learner?
    Keep up the good work, and Thanks.

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