Important Information Regarding Distance Education Regulatory Changes

Updated 11/4/2021

The following information supersedes the FAQs previously provided for purposes of explaining the USDE waivers due to COVID-19.   

Institutions that do not already have Distance Education Alternative Delivery Method included within the scope of accreditation but are offering or intend to offer courses or any portion of a program through distance education must submit a substantive change request by the January 2022 submission deadline.  

The Commission issued a notice of the United States Department of Education Extension of Distance Education on May 19, 2020, indicating that institutions wishing to use distance education programs as an alternative delivery method beyond the United States Department of Education (USDE or the Department) extension must seek approval through the substantive change process. At that time, the Commission was not requiring that institutions offering distance education courses obtain accreditor approval. However, for the reasons described in more detail below, beginning January 1, 2022, institutions that do not currently have distance education currently included within their scope of accreditation but are offering courses or any portion of a program through distance education  must submit a substantive change request.  

The federal Distance Education and Innovation rules were renegotiated and effective July 1, 2021. The Department provided guidance on accreditation and eligibility requirements for distance education in an electronic announcement Guidance on Accreditation and Eligibility Requirements for Distance Education (EA ID: OPE-21-06) dated January 19, 2021. In that guidance, the Department stated that Dear Colleague Letter GEN-06-17 had been rescinded in August 2020. The Dear Colleague Letter GEN-06-17 previously interpreted the regulatory requirements to establish a 50 percent threshold for accreditor approval of distance education. Under that interpretation, if an institution did not offer more than 50 percent of an educational program via distance education, distance education was not required to be evaluated or approved by an accrediting agency. The new guidance states that before an institution offers courses or any portion of a distance education program that can be eligible for Title IV, the institution must be evaluated and accredited for its effective delivery of distance education by a recognized agency that has distance education within its scope of recognition.  

Because of the regulatory changes, the Commission has made a technical amendment to the Substantive Change Guidelines, effective November 1, 2021, which removes the 50 percent threshold previously used to determine the need for accreditor approval.  

The substantive change request form for #4 Alternative Delivery Method has been updated to evaluate the institution’s capacity to effectively deliver distance education courses or programs and will be posted on the Commission’s webpage for Substantive Change. Institutions affected by this change should use the updated request form for submissions for the January 2022 deadline.  

Once the alternative delivery method distance education is included within the institution’s scope of accreditation, all future accreditation activities will consider distance education as part of the institution’s offerings and teams and peer evaluators will review them. In addition, the institution will need to submit required notifications or obtain prior approval from the Commission for any subsequent changes in an existing program’s method of delivery in accordance with the Substantive Change Policy and Procedures 

If your institution does not currently have distance education within the scope of its accreditation and you have questions about what may be required, please contact substantivechange@msche.org.