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Proposed compact could give online students more protections

May. 20, 2013 - 11:54AM   |  
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A proposed compact among the states unveiled in April would create a kind of common market for online education and make it easier for institutions to enroll students anywhere in the country.

The proposal also would set some uniform consumer protections, which could give students in some states more recourse to complain to regulators, though it could weaken state oversight in places that already have strict rules.

Nearly 7 million U.S. students are accessing college courses online. While most for-profit and large nonprofit online providers have invested the time and money to be allowed to enroll students in all 50 states, others have turned away students from states such as Arkansas, Minnesota and Massachusetts, where the barriers to gaining approval are higher.

The system has also sowed confusion over such issues as what happens if students move to a state where the institution isn’t approved.

Organizers said the proposed compact — a kind of treaty among the states — represents input from all constituencies.

“We don’t have any indication of states that say, ‘I’m all against this, I’m not interested,’” said Paul Lingenfelter, president of a group of state higher education officers.

The plan calls for something akin to what states do with driver’s licenses — agreeing to recognize credentials issued by other states. The most important novelty in the compact is that regulators in, say, California would agree to address complaints brought by students elsewhere against California-based institutions.

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