Campus figuring out ways to offer online classes out of state

Jason Gallaher

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CSUN is in the beginning stages of figuring out how a proposed interstate reciprocity system for online courses could affect online education at the university.

The Commission on the Regulation of Postsecondary Distance Education released a report in April proposing a new system to authorize institutions to teach online courses to out-of-state students.

Currently, higher education institutions have to be authorized by the states in which out-of-state students who take online courses reside.

“Providers of distance education now have to meet 50 different state policies,” said Terri Taylor, a policy and legal advisor who worked with the commission on creating the interstate reciprocity system. “This proposal would create baseline requirements that are the same for all states participating in this.”

Under the agreement, every institution would be authorized to teach students based on standards created and monitored by that institution’s home state.

For example, CSUN would be monitored only by the state of California to teach students online regardless of the state in which the student resides if the reciprocity system is enacted.

Key goals for the commission were to create more educational opportunities for students and to lower the cost of taking college courses online.

Authorization to teach out-of-state students often requires higher education institutions to pay fees for processing the authorization.

“These costs are eventually passed to students,” Taylor said.

According to the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, a community college paying for authorization in five states for 257 students cost $76,100, while a public university system paid $5.5 million to comply with authorization to teach students online from 49 states.

Under the interstate reciprocity agreement, fewer fees would be required to be authorized to teach out-of-state students online.

“Fees will be much lower,” Taylor said. “Institutions would pay one set fee each year.”

Dr. Elizabeth Adams, the associate vice president of undergraduate studies, said out-of-state students who take courses online represent a small percentage of the Matador population.

“It’s not a lot,” Adams said. “Probably fewer than 100 (students).”

Dr. Karen Girton-Snyder, the director of distance learning at the Tseng College, said CSUN currently goes through an authorization process to teach out-of-state students online.

“It depends on the state requirement,” Girton-Snyder said. “The majority have been CSU system-wide authorized.”

In some states, the university is required to be authorized individually as opposed to the CSU system being authorized as a whole.

Taylor said the intricate state-by-state authorization process was a product of confusion that resulted from classes leaving physical locations to be taught in the digital space.

“If you think about higher education, for a long time it was a place-based institution,” she said. “Regulation (of higher education) grew up around geographic relationships. Exposure of distance education has subverted place-based regulation.”

Meetings were held in Indianapolis on April 16 and 17 to discuss the interstate reciprocity agreement for distance education.

“Forty-seven states came to talk about the proposed agreement,” Taylor said. “People were generally positive.”

Taylor said it was important for states to come together and meet because the nation is becoming increasingly digitized, which could lead to more online courses.

“Distance education probably won’t get easier (to address) over time,” she said. “We need ways to regulate distance education but not stifle its growth.”

The reciprocity agreement would be on a voluntary basis. States that choose not to take part in the agreement will continue to authorize out-of-state institutions as they do now.

All institutions of higher education would be allowed to participate in the agreement.

“We went out of our way to include all institutions,” Taylor said. “Big public universities, small private schools, for-profit institutions and non-profit are all included.”

As it has yet to be decided whether the reciprocity agreement will be enacted, administrators at CSUN are unable to explicitly say how the university will be affected.

“We’re just at the planning stages, so we don’t know what it would do to our enrollment,” Adams said.