In the last few months, our members have reported receiving mailings that intimate that to be compliant with Federal requirements, a Distance Learning program must use a technology solution to authenticate students.   Not every vendor is doing this, but I have also received the postcard that sets an ominous tone. 

This stems from the Higher Education Opportunities Act (HEOA) 2008 – there were some 56 net new regulations impacting higher education.  Distance Learning was not left out of this; the HEOA is the source of the student authentication requirement.  Specifically, from the HEOA:

Institutions offering online courses are required by the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 to have processes in place to verify that the student who signs up or registers for a distance education course or similar program is the same student that participates in the courses and receives the academic credit.

Even in 2008, a number of companies – in a position to benefit – were pushing technology solutions for student authentication.  The ITC at the time was concerned about the associated costs to programs and worked with US Senate staff to include clarifying language in the bill – and I’m happy to report, the ITC was successful!  The clarifying language established the following – which is important but never quoted with the first language:

  • The intent of student authentication is met by using a unique username and password for each student
  • Distance Learning programs are encouraged to engage in exploration and experimentation of emerging solutions (including technology-based)
  • Recognition that the associated costs of technology-based solutions may be cost-prohibitive
  • Recognized that Distance Learning programs must also respect student privacy

At no point, does the HEOA require the use of any particular solution nor specifically any technology-based solution.

Nor does any regional accreditor currently require a technology-based solution.  Again, there is a desire to see Distance Learning programs to monitor student authentication for fraud and to explore additional options beyond the unique username/password.

Apparently, there currently is language to this effect in the House version of the Higher Education Authorization (HEA)  re-authorization bill that passed in December.  Likely this is the source of recent rumors and concerns.

The ITC is engaged on the US Senate side with its version of Higher Education Authorization (HEA) re-authorization – and specifically working to keep similar language from appearing in the Senate version if/when it passes out of the US Senate. 

We will continue to update you on this issue, but for now, again, there is no requirement to use a technology-based solution as a method of student authentication.