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Meeting of the Board of Regents | March 2010

Tuesday, March 23, 2010 - 11:40pm

sed seal                                                                                                 




signature of Joseph FreyHigher Education Committee


Joseph P. Frey



Online Education in Higher Education in New York


February 23, 2010






Issue for Discussion

Should the Regents review the existing policy of the Office of Higher Education with respect to online education programs in New York State.


Reason(s) for Consideration

For Discussion.

Proposed Handling

This matter will come before the Higher Education Committee at its March 2010 meeting for discussion. 

Background Information

The attached paper provides the Board’s statement in the Statewide Plan, background on online education in higher education in the State and nationally, and information on good and poor practices and on reviews of institutional capability to undertake study online.  It also discusses the fields in which New York institutions offer degree and diploma or certificate programs by online education and the programs’ distribution by sector, and provides information on students and online education.


Online Education in Higher Education in New York

High Educational Quality is the Board of Regents first priority in the 2004 Statewide Plan for Higher Education.  Concerning distance learning, under that priority the Regents said:


Looking into the future, distance learning has the potential to address this priority as well as other Regents priorities.  It has the capability to:


  • provide access to virtually anyone in this State;
  • enable residents to pursue educational opportunities within their family and workforce obligations;
  • provide specialized study and training to professionals and communities where experts are not readily available; and
  • assist licensed professionals to fulfill mandatory continuing education and competency requirements to better serve the public.


This statement was informed by the Department’s work in the late 1990s and 2000s to promote good practice, and avert poor practice, in online education.

Poor Online Practices the Department Sought to Avert.  As online education grew in popularity in the 1990s, the Department saw poor practices developing across the nation.  Some of them were:


  • Using online course content purchased from another provider without proper review by the institution’s faculty to evaluate its quality, rigor, and “fit” with the institution’s courses and/or mission.


  • Online courses that have excessive enrollments - 100 students or more:  With this faculty-student ratio, it is unlikely that there will be regular and substantive interaction between faculty and students.  In these over-subscribed course sections, the only regular interaction a student may have with the institution might be with a graduate assistant or with staff who monitor the time students spend on the course Web site.


  • Assuming incorrectly that online courses are easier to teach than classroom-based courses and that faculty can offer them on an overload basis.  Such courses generally require more and different effort and commitment than classroom courses. 


  • Inadequate training for faculty to teach online courses, or no training at all.  Training that focuses primarily on using the technology rather than on engaging active learners in an online environment.


  • Using advanced technology without adequate help desk support for maintaining software and assisting students and faculty who have technical difficulties.


  • Lack of clarity in informing students before they enroll in online courses of expectations about level of student effort and/or technology requirements.


  • Inadequate safeguards to assure that students are submitting their own work.


  • Inadequate support services for online students, including lack of access to sufficient and appropriate library resources.


In seeking to avert such practices in New York, in October 1999, the Department established a 16-member Task Force on Distance Education comprised of faculty and administrators from public and independent institutions and a representative of the Middle States Association.  Its goals were to:


  • assure quality and promote good practice in distance education
  • streamline the regulatory process for registering distance education programs
  • provide information to the public on distance education programs approved by the State Education Department


In 2000, the Task Force put forward two major recommendations:


  • An alternative to individual program review, called an Institutional Capability Review, which allowed the Department to approve a higher education institution as a provider of distance education for a five-year period.  During that time, the institution could introduce additional distance programs if the Department registered them in the standard classroom format after an academic review.  (The Department excluded programs leading to professional licensure from that authorization.)


  • Principles of Good Practice for Distance Education, with Operational Criteria to support each principle (Attachment C).  The five principles addressed are:


  • Organizational Commitment,
  • Learning Design,
  • Learner Support,
  • Outcomes Assessment, and
  • Program Evaluation.  


The Task Force developed the statement in cooperation with Middle States’ development of its own guidelines , which are fully consistent with the Principles of Good Practice.

The Regents Higher and Professional Education Committee received and discussed the Task Force’s report at its June and September 2000 meetings.

Background.  Distance learning is not new.  It began as correspondence courses, at least as early as the 19th century.  Courses were offered by radio in the 1930s, and by television beginning in the 1950s.  New York University began telecasting credit courses on the CBS television network in 1957, in its “Sunrise Semester” program.  Viewers paying the course fee and doing the required work could earn credit.  Today, distance education’s emphasis has shifted to online learning, with the potential for both greater richness of content and communication and greater flexibility for students and faculty.

Online education is worldwide in scope.  Students enrolling may reside anywhere in the world.  However, the Board of Regents authority extends only to New York higher education institutions.  The Department’s role with respect to online programs provided by institutions outside New York State is to respond to requests from potential students of such programs for information and advice.  It does not assure their quality.  There is no international, or even national, entity to assure quality of online education.               

In the decade since the Task Force on Distance Education began its work, online education has undergone extensive development across the State, nationally and globally.  According to a 2009 nationwide survey by the Sloan Consortium, over 4.6 million students across the U.S. – more than one student in four -- took at least one online course during the fall semester of 2008, a 17 percent increase over the 3.9 million reported the previous year.  Over the same period, total enrollment in all college study, nationwide, grew by only 1.2 percent.   Almost half the respondents to the Campus Computing Project’s 2009 survey of 145 public and nonprofit institutions projected more than 15 percent growth in online enrollments over the next two years.  Few projected flat or declining enrollment.  

Institutional Capability Reviews (ICR).  Over the past decade, 25 New York institutions had ICRs.  They included 15 SUNY campuses and community colleges, 8 independent institutions, and 2 proprietary institutions.  Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies also received this approval.  (See Appendix B for the list.) 

In preparing for an ICR, an institution prepared a self-study of the extent to which it met each of the Operational Criteria associated with the Principles of Good Practice and transmitted it to the Department.  The Department and the institution scheduled a visit by a team of trained peer reviewers – faculty and administrators from higher education institutions who had been trained to review institutional capability in terms of the Principles of Good Practice and the associated Operational Criteria.

The team reviewed the self-study and other materials provided by the institution, and visited the institution to meet with faculty and administrators, review documents, records, and student work, and assess academic, physical, and financial resources.  It prepared a draft report of its findings concerning each of the Operational Criteria for the institution’s review.  The draft, plus the institution’s response, became the final report on which the Department based a decision about approval.

For most of the institutions that had ICR approvals, the five-year term of approval has expired.  The last approval was granted in November 2006.

Because of resource constraints, the Department no longer offers ICRs.  Reduction in both staffing and funds available to pay the cost of peer review visits led the Office of Higher Education to focus on other elements of its core mission, including review of proposals for new or revised programs of study. In addition, peer review visits required for decisions on recommendations to the Regents on institutional requests for major changes in mission (e.g., moving to a new level of study or opening a branch campus).  In place of ICRs, the Department returned to reviewing requests to offer programs in a distance education mode proposal by proposal.

Registration of Online Programs.  The Department requires registration of a program in the distance education format when an institution offers a majority of the program online.  Between the fall of 2004 and the fall of 2009, the number of programs the Department registered in a distance education mode at New York higher education institutions – including those that did not have ICRs -- more than doubled, from 477 in 2004 to 860 in 2008 to 971 in 2009.  In comparison, the growth in registered programs of all types was only 12.5 percent over the same period.

The Office of Higher Education based its application for adding the distance education format on the Operational Criteria associated with the Principles of Good Practice.  To the information required in all applications to register new programs according to the quality standards in Part 52 of the Commissioner’s Regulations , it adds:


  • estimated enrollment of distance education students,
  • orientation opportunities and resources for such students,
  • access to such administrative processes as registrarial services, and
  • academic and administrative support -- including advisement, library and information services, and other technical support -- available.


It also requires descriptions of learning design and outcomes to assure that the programs meet the same academic standards as on-campus programs, that students can complete them in a timely manner, and that faculty can verify that students are submitting their own work.

As needed, the Department makes use of a cadre of 49 trained peer reviewers – faculty and administrators from institutions in all sectors – to assist it in reviewing proposals.     


To assess the extent to which the Principles of Good Practice and associated Operational Criteria are still current, the Department sought the opinions of a number of leaders of online education in higher education across the State.  Their consensus was that the Principles and Criteria still are current and appropriate.  Some suggested that there might be a need to update them to account for emerging technologies and to strengthen practices to assure that students are submitting their own work.  In that regard, the Criteria include the following, “Distance learning programs include adequate verification of learners' work.”  How that is done is left to the institution; however, federal guidelines for institutions participating in HEA Title IV student aid programs suggest that passwords and secure Web sites are adequate.

Institutions seeking Regents institutional accreditation, or its renewal, that offer online education include assessment of their institutional capability, according to the Operational Criteria, in their accreditation self-studies.  Regents accreditation peer review teams include distance education in their evaluations.   

Some Program Characteristics.  Generally, the programs offered online are in occupationally related fields.  Nearly 45 percent are in business-related and health-related disciplines; less than 20 percent are in fields traditionally regarded as part of the liberal arts and sciences.  Nearly two-thirds are undergraduate.  The 971 include:


  • 226 certificate and advanced certificate programs,
  • 303 associate degree programs,
  • 210 baccalaureate programs,
  • 216 master’s degree programs,
  • 14 first-professional degree programs, and
  • 2 doctoral programs.


Independent institutions offered 454 programs (46.8 percent of the total), followed by SUNY campuses and community colleges (434, or 44.7 percent), proprietary institutions (70, or 7.2 percent), and CUNY colleges (13, or 1.3 percent). 

Programs registered in a distance education mode were only 1.8 percent of all registered programs in 2004 and 3.2 percent in 2009.  Attachment A shows their number by level and by sector of higher education in October 2009.  The vast majority of these programs also are offered in an on-campus version; only some 130 certificate and degree programs are offered exclusively online, with no on-campus version.

Institutions offer programs in different modes, some synchronous (such as video-conferencing); some asynchronous, through course management systems such as ANGEL, Blackboard, or Moodle or, in the SUNY system, the SUNY Learning Network’s learning management software; or in a combination of modes.

Students and Online Education.  The Department has no way to recognize or tally courses offered in a Web-enhanced mode, blended or hybrid mode, or entirely online .  It only registers complete programs, not individual courses.  Consequently, the Department does not know what proportion of any particular program, beyond the 50 percent threshold, may be offered online or how many students take one or more online courses in a given term.

In any give term, a student may be taking one or more courses on campus and one or more online.  Some or all of the on-campus courses may be Web-enhanced, with course syllabi, materials, and lectures available for study on the institution’s course management system.  Web-enhanced and blended or hybrid courses may have become the standard formats for on-campus courses at higher education institutions.

Despite skepticism about the equivalence in quality of online courses with those offered on campus, especially among some faculty members, found in a 2009 study by the Sloan Online Learning Commission and the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, the Commission’s executive director has stated that 15 years of research indicates that there is no difference in quality.   A 2009 U.S. Department of Education study found that, “on average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.”   It found that “The effectiveness of online learning approaches appears quite broad across different content and learner types.  Online learning appeared to be an effective option for both undergraduates . . .  and for graduate students and professionals . . . in a wide range of academic and professional studies” and that “Most of the variations in the way in which different studies implemented online learning did not affect student learning outcomes significantly.”

CUNY Efforts in Online Learning.  Accounting for over five percent of all its instruction, CUNY sees hybrid instruction as making sense for a system where everyone commutes.  Grants from the Sloan Foundation seeded hybrid instruction.  Sloan understood CUNY’s lack of need to pull in enrollments online, with its campuses in such proximity that access to courses at other campuses is a subway ride away.  Committed to fully asynchronous online instruction elsewhere, Sloan sanctioned CUNY’s emphasis and helped to define the formula: instruction that is one-third to two-thirds online.

CUNY has implemented the virtual center for teaching and learning, the CUNY Academic Commons, proposed in its master plan.  It allows cross-campus groups of faculty and staff to meet online to share ideas, resources, and knowledge about online and partly online instruction.  Interest among the faculty has been fueled by recent research showing that hybrid instruction can be superior to both wholly online and wholly face-to-face instruction.

CUNY provides university-wide access to Blackboard’s course management system, its main platform for hybrid and online instruction.  Blackboard now has over 160,000 unique active users, accounting for more than half of all the system’s degree students.  Many are in courses that are only Web-enhanced, not hybrid; however, they represent a widespread familiarity that CUNY believes positions it for more extensive use of hybrids.

The recent enrollment surge led campuses to systematically define and schedule hybrid courses, especially to conserve classroom space.  To facilitate and coordinate those efforts, the Central Administration invited campus proposals to plan and deploy hybrid courses.  It received 15 proposals and funded nine that promise to model both the planning and the practice that will increase hybrid instruction by an order of magnitude.  CUNY estimates that this piloting and dissemination of hybrid courses will more than double hybrid instruction over the next two years.

SUNY Efforts in Online Learning.  SUNY describes the SUNY Learning Network (SLN) as “a partnership with SUNY Campuses to provide support in the areas of pedagogy, technology, student and faculty support and marketing services” that was established with support from the Sloan Foundation.  It has grown from eight campuses to about 30 today.  SLN estimates that participating State-operated campuses and community colleges offer some 4,000 fully online courses for about 100,000 student enrollments.

SLN provides ANGEL learning management software, help desk services for faculty and students, and training and support in offering Web-enhanced courses, blended courses, and fully online courses.  It provides technology hosting, management, development, and maintenance on SUNY-wide servers.  It offers a broad spectrum of self-paced learning materials for faculty seeking to offer Web-enhanced courses and full professional development programs for faculty seeking to offer blended or fully online courses.  The learning management software can record and report on achievement of a course’s learning objectives, which can facilitate instructional improvement.

Good Practices in New York.  The following examples of good practices in online education follow the Principles of Good Practice and Operational Criteria:

A. Organizational Commitment

Canisius College spent nearly two years in planning and in faculty training for its first online program, a Master of Science in Education (approved in December 2005).  Canisius’ planning process includes: 1) identification of a need, 2) assessment of College strengths in the field, 3) human and technical resources, and 4) fit with the College mission.  In addition to faculty teaching online courses, staff include support technicians, academic technology specialists, instructional designers, and a director of academic programming.  Canisius has invested in its online education capacity, including a dedicated server for its course management platform, and has launched online services to support all its programs.

CUNY’s 2010 Hybrid Initiative, which is included in its 2008-2012 Master Plan, calls for and supports a significant ramping up of hybrid courses, wherein 33 to 67 percent of instruction occurs online.  Recent research indicates that hybrid courses are pedagogically superior to either 100 percent online or 100 percent face-to-face courses.  CUNY colleges are submitting proposals for their own faculty development efforts and all involved campuses will participate in a CUNY-wide institute bringing campus teams together to share strategies and models.  The institute will have its own hybrid aspect, starting with a meeting of the campus teams, but continuing online in the recently developed CUNY Academic Commons.  CUNY expects the professional development and planning to result in significantly increased hybrid course offerings in the coming academic year.  In turn, those courses will serve as models for further hybrid course development.

The SUNY College at Plattsburgh coordinates online-learning activities through the Dean of Library and Information Services.  It dedicates staff time of the dean’s office, instructional technology, computing and media support, campus networking, and administrative computing to support online programs and courses.  It allocates staff and fiscal resources in response to program requests, enrollment growth, and support office recommendations.  In recent years, it has made additional budget allocations for network bandwidth, videoconferencing equipment, faculty development stipends, electronic library materials, and online course-management software.

B. Learning Design

Colleges use a variety of strategies to verify that online students are doing their own work.  At New York Institute of Technology, faculty can require students in online courses to take proctored examinations.  Students are required to identify a proctor, whose status is verified by the Chair of the Online Campus.  Exams are shipped to the proctor and returned to the instructor for grading.  Faculty also may use timed tests and test banks in the Blackboard course management system.  Strategies for developing online assessments, randomizing questions, and using test banks, for security and other purposes, are part of faculty professional development.  Faculty discuss use of projects, papers, and presentations instead of objective examinations in the sessions.  NYIT also provides faculty an electronic system to verify originality of student work.

The School of Professional Studies of the CUNY Graduate Center first began offering fully online degree programs in 2006 as a means of addressing CUNY’s core mission of access.  These “degree completion” programs are designed for “stop-outs” – students leaving college in good standing (with GPAs of 2.0 or higher) who are unable to attend conventional, classroom-based instruction because of work schedules, family obligations, or other commitments.  It launched the first program, an interdisciplinary B.A. program in communication and culture, in 2006 with about 200 students.  There are now over 800 students in three programs -- a B.S. program in business, launched in 2008, and an M.S. program in business management and leadership in 2009 -- and there are already over 120 graduates from the undergraduate programs.

Using as a base the online courses developed for the School of Professional Studies’ online baccalaureate programs, faculty teams from across CUNY will develop online core courses in areas of high enrollment for use across the system.  The first will be first-year composition.  The course will articulate both with School of Professional Studies offerings and with the campuses' program requirements.  Faculty from various colleges who offer multiple sections of the fully online courses will meet at the end of the semester to debrief and revise the offerings so that they are suited to CUNY-wide use.  Fully online composition, to be piloted in the fall of 2010 and fully deployed in the following spring, will provide a model for the future deployment of other core courses.

At Niagara University, all student work in both the on-campus and online versions of the Educational Leadership programs meet the national standard established by the Educational Leadership Constituency Council.  The Department of Educational Leadership uses eight rigorous assessment instruments to verify student work.  Each online course has synchronous communication between students and faculty instructor.  In addition, students are subject to Niagara’s academic integrity policy.  Faculty are trained to encourage interactive communication using a Socratic line of questioning to engage the student.  Exercises and case studies encourage higher-order thinking skills, which become situation unique, and allow faculty to monitor student responses closely.

C. Learner Support

Many colleges have student portals to centralize information for prospective and current online students.  SUNY College of Technology at Delhi’s portal links students to a full menu of support and administrative services: bookstore, library, tutoring, and advising, as well as admissions, registration, and career services information.  Information on orientation, technical requirements, and course schedules is included.  An online quiz allows prospective students to assess their aptitude for online learning.   

Students studying online may need some form of traditional structure that will provide motivation, enable them to confirm their progress, and affirm their commitment to learning.  In short, they need to feel that they are in college.  SUNY’s Empire State College created a forum for students to do just that, the Student Academic Conference, bringing together students from all geographic and academic areas of the College to share and learn from each other.  The Conference is a two-day event where students present papers and projects on a wide range of academic topics.  It provides an arena for developing community among the students, fosters the value of Empire State as a learning community, and immerses students in an academic culture.

At Monroe College, each online student has a personal admissions counselor who can answer many important questions, advise on academic programs, and help with details like the process of purchasing books.  Once the semester begins, online students have personal support counselors as guides and consultants through the program.  Online tutoring is available at no charge on a 24 hour/7 day-a-week basis.  All Monroe students can receive on-going consultation from the Office of Career Services, which can help with part-time, full-time, and career employment.

D. Outcomes and Assessment

It is standard practice for colleges applying to add Distance Education format to a registered program to state that learning outcomes will be the same regardless of delivery mode.  Since interaction in an online course takes place on the Internet rather than in a classroom, faculty need additional techniques to measure student participation and outcomes.  SUNY Stony Brook faculty have adapted grading rubrics for assessing weekly discussion forums on the University’s own course management system.  Students in online courses are graded in part on both the quantity and quality of their interaction in a course’s discussion forums.

In some fields, students must pass standardized measurement instruments in addition to coursework.  For example, for certification in Bilingual Education, students must pass the Bilingual Education Assessment (BEA), one of the Content Specialty Tests for certification.  Long Island University’s online program in bilingual education analyzes scores on the BEA and compares them to scores of students in the on-campus version of the program, in order to assess the online program’s effectiveness in preparing teachers.  Other outcome data (test/quiz results, quality of papers, projects and presentations, and quality and extent of participation) are also compared.  Results are used for program improvement.

E. Program Evaluation

Briarcliffe College analyzes online results and compares them to the standards and metrics of the pertinent classroom-based program.  Final grades are exported from the student registration system into a spreadsheet; data from students in traditional classes and online classes then are placed in separate groups.  A statistical comparison is carried out, comparing success and failure of traditional and online classes.  After the analysis, action plans are developed and, if necessary, activities revised.  After a suitable length of time, the data are recollected and reanalyzed.

At Syracuse University’s Whitman School of Management, students evaluate online courses at the end of each course.  The evaluations ensure that the online classes meet Whitman School standards for both academic rigor and achievement of learning outcomes.  Student comments cover course content as well as delivery method.  Faculty use this feedback to shape course content, seek improved delivery methods, and ensure timely instructor feedback.  Since the online program is expected to meet the same standards as the on-campus program, evaluation also includes assessment of learning outcomes, including rigor and breadth of coverage of program objectives.


Attachment A




Undergraduate Programs

Graduate Programs




or Diploma

Associate Degree

Baccalaureate Degree

Master’s Degree

First-Professional Degree

Advanced Certificate or Diploma

Master of Philosophy Degree

Doctoral Degree




All Programs










 By Distance Ed












All Programs










By Distance Ed










Independnt Insts


All Programs










By Distance Ed










Proprietary Cols


All Programs










By Distance Ed












All Programs










By Distance Ed










Source: NYSED: Inventory of Registered Programs, October 15, 2009. 

Attachment B

Institutions Approved For Distance Education through the

Institutional Capability Review Process

State University of New York

State University of New York at Albany

State University College at Oswego

Empire State College

State University College of Technology at Alfred

Adirondack Community College

Cayuga Community College

Erie Community College

Genesee Community College

Herkimer County Community College

Hudson Valley Community College

Jefferson Community College

Mohawk Valley Community College

Monroe Community College

Niagara Community College

Tompkins Cortland Community College

Independent Institutions

Marist College

Mercy College

New York Institute of Technology

New York University

Pace University

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Rochester Institute of Technology

St. John’s University

Syracuse University School of Information Studies

Proprietary Institutions

Berkeley College

Monroe College

Attachment C

Principles of Good Practice in Distance Education


In this document, the Task Force on Distance Higher Education specifically addresses the fastest growing segment of U.S. higher education, distance education or distance learning.  In part because of the rapid changes in the technological platforms and because institutions are launching new programs without substantial experience base, there remain wide variations in the quality of distance education programs.  In response to this concern, the Task Force has established principles and standards of good practice that can be used to evaluate an institution's capability to design and deliver quality distance programs mediated through technology.

At the same time, the Task Force recognizes that the increased use of technologies in site-based courses and the growing interest in alternate approaches to distance learning have created a convergence of distance and on-site learning that some refer to as distributed learning.  Increasingly we see distributed learning environments in which students on site and students at a distance have much the same learning experience.  As this convergence continues, the new forms of education that emerge are likely to resemble distance education in their flexibility, interactivity, and use of innovative pedagogical approaches.

These principles and criteria address only the distance education aspects of programs, not their content or the academic preparation of their faculty.  The standards of academic quality remain the same for all programs regardless of the delivery system used.





  • Distance learning must be backed by an organizational commitment to quality and effectiveness in all aspects of the learning environment.




  • To be effective distance learning programs must be backed by a commitment on the part of the institution or organization to include distance learning in its planning and goal-setting, to treat distance education and on-campus education equitably in its policies and procedures, and to provide the necessary resources – human, fiscal, programmatic and technical -- to support those programs.


Operational Criteria


  • The institution's distance learning activity is consistent with the institutional mission.


  • The institution shows evidence -- through its priorities, goals, strategic plans, policies, procedures, faculty recognition, and infrastructure -- that it values distance learning.


  • The institution's distance learning programs show evidence of careful planning, including identification of the need, the nature and size of the intended audiences, provisions for serving those audiences, and a plan for adding resources (financial and human, including instructional staffing and support functions) to accommodate future program growth ("scalability").


  • The institution has committed sufficient resources to its distance learning programs and services to ensure their effectiveness.


  • The institution has clearly identified a single office or officer with responsibility for assuring the quality of all distance education across the institution.


  • The institution ensures that the administration of its distance learning programs by knowledgeable personnel with adequate time and resources to accomplish this task.


  • The institution has developed and implemented a process for sustaining faculty professional development in distance learning.  This process recognizes that teaching in the distance learning environment requires different pedagogical and communication strategies to function effectively, and that the faculty member and the institution share responsibility for assuring effectiveness.


  • If the institution uses courses, programs, or academic support services from another provider, it has an adequate process in place (with faculty participation) for evaluating their quality, academic rigor, and suitability for the award of college credit and a degree or certificate.


  • The institution has in place a comprehensive, viable technology plan for distance learning.


  • The institution has a clear policy on ownership of course materials developed for its distance education courses; this policy is shared with all faculty and staff involved in distance education at the institution.





  • The institution's distance learning programs are designed to fit the specific context for learning.




  • All programs the institution offers in a distance learning format must have quality, integrity, and consistency, and must fit the specific context for learning.  That context includes the nature of the subject matter, the intended learning outcomes, the needs and goals of the learner, the learner’s environment, and the instructional technologies and methods.


Operational Criteria


  • The same academic standards and requirements are applied to programs offered on campus and through distance learning.


  • Distance learning programs are coherent, complete, and offered in a sequence or configuration that allows timely completion of requirements.


  • The same faculty qualifications are applied to distance education programs as all other academic programs.


  • Faculty are responsible for the initial and ongoing development and delivery of instruction in distance programs.


  • Distance learning programs provide clear statements of learner responsibilities and expectations of student participation and learning.


  • Distance learning programs provide for appropriate and flexible interaction between faculty and students and among students.


  • The technologies selected for a specific distance learning opportunity are appropriate for the intended learning outcomes, content, relevant characteristics of the learning and the learner, and student cost.


  • Distance learning programs include adequate verification of learners' work.


  • Faculty and program administrators determine the appropriate enrollment that can be supported in the distance learning program and in individual courses based upon the content and learning activities, the nature of the learners, the technologies used, and the support available to faculty.





  • Distance learning activities are effectively supported for learners through fully accessible modes of delivery and resources.




  • Distance learners often must assume greater responsibility for their own learning.  They must understand and address their own learning needs; take initiative in asking questions and obtaining help; interact with faculty and other students as appropriate; and be prepared to deal with technical difficulties in the two-way flow of information.  At the same time, institutions must develop and provide the necessary information and learner support systems to assist learners in carrying out their learning activities and using the available resources.  Learner support must be appropriate to the distance learning modes used.


Operational Criteria


  • The institution provides distance students with detailed information on admissions and program graduation requirements.


  • Distance program materials clearly and accurately represent the program, including detailed program completion requirements, the nature of the learning experience, program and faculty responsibilities, and the nature of faculty-student, student-faculty, and student-student interaction opportunities, techniques, and requirements.  They define any specific student background, knowledge, or technical skills needed to undertake and successfully complete the distance program, and describe in layman's terms any technical equipment and/or software required or recommended.


  • The institution provides distance learners adequate academic support, including academic advisement, technical support, and other student support services normally available on campus.  Program materials clearly describe how students obtain these support services.


  • The institution provides adequate library and information resources, services, and support for academic programs, including training in information literacy.  These resources and services are accessible at a distance on a timely basis.


  • Administrative processes such as admissions and registration are readily accessible to distance students, and program materials clearly describe how access is obtained.


  • The institution provides orientation opportunities and resources for distance learners that are appropriate to the technologies used, the content, and the learners.





  • Distance education programs organize learning activities around demonstrable outcomes (often expressed in learning objectives), assist the learner to achieve these outcomes, and assess learner progress by reference to these outcomes.


Operational Criteria


  • Distance learning programs are expected to produce the same learning outcomes as comparable classroom-based programs.  These learning outcomes are clearly identified -- in terms of knowledge, skills, or credentials -- in course and program materials.


  • All aspects of the distance learning program are consistent with and shaped to achieve the demonstrable learning outcomes.


  • The means chosen for assessing student learning are appropriate to the content, learning design, technologies, and characteristics of the learners.





  • The institution evaluates the effectiveness of its distance learning programs and uses the findings to improve the programs and services.


Operational Criteria


  • The institution has a process in place to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of all aspects of its distance learning programs on a regular basis.


  • The evaluation results are used for continuous program improvement.


  • Program evaluation procedures include a determination that distance learning programs result in learning outcomes appropriate to the rigor and breadth of the college degree or certificate awarded.

Middle States Commission on Higher Education. Distance Learning Programs, Interregional Guidelines for Electronically Offered Degree and Certificate Programs. Philadelphia, PA: Middle States Commission on Higher Education, 2002. 

Allen, I. Elaine and J. Seaman. “Learning on Demand: Online Education in the United States, 2009.” The Sloan Consortium & Babson Survey Research Group, January 2010.

The Department’s Inventory of Registered Programs defines Distance Education format as “A major portion of the requirement for the degree or other award can be completed through study delivered by distance education.”

Program content and requirements, program schedule, institutional criteria for evaluation of program quality, library and other academic resources, existing and projected full- and part-time faculty with qualifications and teaching assignments, and admission requirements. 

It generally is agreed that a “Web-enhanced” or Web-facilitated course uses Internet-based technology to augment what is essentially a classroom-based course; for example, the syllabus and assignments may be posted online.  A hybrid or blended course combines online and face-to-face delivery and involves a reduction in classroom-based “seat time.”  An online course is one in which all or most of the content is delivered online, and where there is typically no face-to-face time.

Inside Higher Education, October 22, 2009.

Means, Barbara et al. Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies. U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development, Policy and Programs Studies Service, 2009.