HLC's policies outline when institutions need to notify HLC about distance or correspondence instruction and when they need to seek approval. (See policy INST.F.20.040.)
HLC Definitions for Distance or Correspondence Education Courses and Programs
HLC uses the following definitions for the purpose of applying its policy on distance or correspondence education to its accredited and candidate institutions:
- Distance or correspondence education courses are those in which all or the vast majority (typically 75% or more) of the instruction and interaction occurs via electronic communication, correspondence, or equivalent mechanisms, with the faculty and students physically separated from each other.
- Distance or correspondence education programs are those certificate or degree programs in which 50% or more of the required courses may be taken as distance or correspondence education courses.
The following are the Federal definitions (2009) of distance and correspondence education:
Correspondence education means:
- Education provided through one or more courses by an institution under which the institution provides instructional materials, by mail or electronic transmission, including examinations on the materials, to students who are separated from the instructor.
- Interaction between the instructor and the student is limited, is not regular and substantive, and is primarily initiated by the student.
- Correspondence courses are typically self-paced.
- Correspondence education is not distance education.
Distance Education means education that uses one or more of the technologies listed in paragraphs (1) through (4) to deliver instruction to students who are separated from the instructor and to support regular and substantive interaction between the students and the instructor, either synchronously or asynchronously. The technologies may include:
- The internet;
- One-way and two-way transmissions through open broadcast, closed circuit, cable, microwave, broadband lines, fiber optics, satellite, or wireless communications devices;
- Audio conferencing; or
- Video cassettes, DVDs, and CD-ROMs, if the cassettes, DVDs, or CD-ROMs are used in a course in conjunction with any of the technologies listed in paragraphs (1) through (3).
Reporting and Seeking Approval for Distance or Correspondence Education
HLC has identified the following stipulations for determining the scope of distance or correspondence education by an institution. HLC determines the appropriate category for each institution. Such determination is based on information provided by the institution in its Institutional Update to HLC or when it seeks and receives approval of a proposed change. Programs new to the institution may require approval by HLC following HLC's policy on Institutional Change prior to their being offered to students and regardless of the method of delivery. See the separate Program Change Application for additional information or discuss the proposed change with the institution’s HLC liaison.
- Stipulations for distance education include:
- The institution has not been approved for distance education.
- Approval for distance education is limited to courses.
- Approval for distance education is limited to courses and one program.
- Approved for distance education courses and programs.
- Stipulations for correspondence education include:
- The institution has not been approved for correspondence education.
- Approval for correspondence education is limited to courses.
- Approval for correspondence education is limited to courses and one program.
- Approved for correspondence education courses and programs.
HLC policy requires an institution to seek HLC's prior approval if the institution plans to initiate or expand its distance or correspondence education offerings as described below. When initiation or expansion is anticipated, an institution must submit a substantive change request using the forms contained in this document.
Initiation or pre-initiation occurs and a review is required when the institution:
- plans to initiate its first distance or correspondence education course;
- plans to initiate its first distance education degree program, even when it has been approved to offer correspondence education degree programs;
- plans to initiate its first correspondence education degree program, even when it has been approved to offer distance education degree programs;
Expansion occurs and a review is required when the institution:
- plans to increase its current activity in distance education degree programs or its current activity in correspondence education degree programs to higher levels of stipulation noted above.
In addition, HLC may require a substantive change evaluation if the institution:
- has never had a focused review of distance or correspondence education under the previous policy regarding distance education and is now offering one or more programs; or
- has a significant annual increase in enrollment.
In addition to reviewing distance or correspondence education courses and programs through its substantive change processes, HLC evaluates delivery whenever it comprehensively reviews an institution. In these comprehensive reviews, HLC examines the institution’s capacity to provide education to its students and the quality of its performance in doing so, whether via distance or correspondence education or traditional face-to-face modes. Comprehensive reviews examine curriculum, staffing, support services, access to appropriate laboratory and library resources, and all other facets of quality higher education.