Miller commends the U.S. Department of Education for seeking to preserve states’ authority to protect distance education students through state consumer protection laws
DES MOINES – Attorney General Tom Miller today commended the U.S. Department of Education for seeking to maintain states’ authority to enforce state consumer protection laws in online education cases.
In a joint letter to U.S. Secretary of Education John King, Miller, and Iowa College Aid Executive Director Karen Misjak, strongly support the department’s proposed regulations that uphold a state’s authority to enforce the laws when that state is part of a multistate agreement that regulates distance education programs.
The department’s proposed regulations, issued in July, seek to improve oversight and protect distance education students by clarifying the state authorization requirements for postsecondary distance education. The proposed rules preserve state oversight authority, in areas that include advertising, disclosures and refunds.
Iowa is a member of the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA), a voluntary agreement among member states and U.S. territories that establishes comparable national standards for interstate offering of postsecondary distance-education courses and programs.
“We strongly support the Department’s proposed rule language that does not permit a state authorization reciprocity agreement (SARA) to prohibit a participating state from enforcing its own consumer protection laws,” Miller and Misjak wrote. “We believe the Department’s proposed rule is an excellent step toward stronger protections for students and applaud its efforts.”
While their letter commends the Department of Education for its proposed language, Miller and Misjak urge the department to clarify it even further to “not impose restrictions or conditions on a student’s access to a State agency in a student’s state of residence, for the purpose of filing a formal complaint against a distance education provider.”
Currently, SARA prohibits states from accepting or acting on complaints from students until after they’ve exhausted a grievance process with their school and the state in which the school, not the student, is located.
“Too often, such students have difficulty obtaining consistent, authoritative, timely, or focused responses to their concerns from institutional staff, Miller and Misjak wrote. “In such instances, students need the ability to escalate their concerns to their home State,” they added. “We believe that students attending programs offered by out-of-state distance education providers are best served by the State in which the student resides.”
The department expects to publish its final regulations before the end of the year.