The Education Department should allow emergency approvals for online degree programs so American institutions can educate international and other students place bound by COVID-19, Michael B. Horn and Paul Freedman argue.
By Michael B. Horn and Paul Freedman
March 20, 2020
In the wake of the rapid spread of the COVID-19 disease and the shutdown of in-person classes at colleges across the country, the U.S. Department of Education thankfully and belatedly followed the lead of other federal agencies and granted emergency authorization for colleges and universities to respond appropriately for the sake of students by moving classes online, among other measures.
With thousands of students at risk of having their learning interrupted, this is an overdue first step, but it is not enough for international students, prospective students or the schools themselves. The Department of Education, accreditors and state departments of higher education will need to take stronger steps that allow colleges and universities to launch online programs for a longer duration to preserve and ensure America’s higher education pre-eminence on the world stage.
By providing institutions with broad approval to operate online programs on a temporary basis and bypass the Department of Education’s traditional approval process, the department is giving colleges a lifeline to serve students who may be unable to enroll because they were studying abroad in affected countries, have fallen ill themselves or attend a campus — like the University of Washington, Stanford University and Rice University — that has ended its on-campus classes.
Allowing accreditors to waive their traditional review requirements so colleges could begin teaching online was prudent.
But this waiver applies only to current domestic students. It ignores international students, who are required to take their classes in person under the terms of their visas. The department will need to work with other federal agencies to solve this challenge.
It also ignores the vast numbers of prospective students who may be impacted by the spread of COVID-19 in the near future. Given the tenuous state of many colleges and universities in America, the department will need to do more.