Tuesday, November 14, 2017
Does Your Law School Course Offer "Regular and Substantive Interaction Between the Students and the Instructor" Or Is It Merely Correspondence? What Does the Department of Education Inspector General Say?
The Department of Education Inspector General released a report calling for the nonprofit Western Governors University to lose its access to federal financial aid and pay back over $700 million because its online courses were correspondence masquerading as distance education. Read the DOE report here - Download DOE regular interaction or lose accreditation report
What's the difference between distance education, which is eligible for Title IV financial aid accreditation, and correspondence courses which are not? Regular and Substantive Interaction Between the Students and the Instructor. Read also previous blog post: Department of Education Releases Critical Report on ABA's Continued Recognition as Accreditor, ABA Withdraws Distance Education From Its Scope of Recognition
Excerpt from the current DOE report:
In 2006, Congress provided that distance education courses (then referred to as telecommunications courses) would no longer be considered correspondence courses as long as the distance education courses offered by a school exceeded 50 percent of its total course offerings. Congress retained the restrictions on correspondence programs, prohibiting the use of Title IV funds for living expenses unless a program had a residential component. Schools also continued to be ineligible if courses offered by correspondence exceeded 50 percent of the total course offerings or student enrollment in correspondence programs exceeded 50 percent of total enrollment. Additionally, students enrolled in correspondence programs continued to be limited to a half-time Federal Pell Grant Program (Pell) award. In 2008, Congress further amended the HEA to require that distance education programs “support regular and substantive interaction between the students and the instructor.”
We concluded that Western Governors University did not comply with the institutional eligibility requirement that limits the percentage of regular students who may enroll in correspondence courses. Therefore, the Department should require the school to return the $712,670,616 in Title IV funds it received from July 1, 2014, through June 30, 2016, and any additional funds it received after June 30, 2016. Of the 61,180 regular students enrolled in the school’s courses during award year 2013–2014, at least 37,899 (62 percent) were enrolled in one or more courses that did not meet the Title IV definition of distance education. For each of the 102 courses required to complete the school’s 3 largest programs, we reviewed course design materials for evidence that each course was designed to offer regular and substantive interaction between students and instructors, the key requirement to be considered a course offered through distance education. We concluded that at least 69 of the 102 courses were not designed to offer regular and substantive interaction with an instructor and, therefore, did not meet the regulatory definition of distance education. Instead, these 69 courses met the Title IV definition of a correspondence course (34 C.F.R. § 600.2). None of these 69 courses could reasonably be considered as providing regular and substantive interaction between students and instructors. Course design materials for 32 of the 69 courses described no substantive interaction with an instructor. Course design materials for 27 courses described 1 substantive interaction with an instructor. Course design materials for 10 courses described 2 substantive interactions with an instructor. According to Section 102(a)(3)(B) of the HEA and 34 C.F.R. § 600.7(a)(1), a school is not eligible to participate in the Title IV programs if, for its latest complete award year, 50 percent or more of the school’s regular students were enrolled in correspondence courses. Because more than 50 percent of its regular students were enrolled in at least one correspondence course during award year 2013–2014, Western Governors University became ineligible to participate in the Title IV programs as of June 30, 2014 (34 C.F.R. § 600.40(a)(3)).