Approval Requirements for Online Institutions

In response to new federal rules affecting institutions that deliver programs via distance learning, the EAB is providing the following information to help institutions understand Wisconsin's regulatory requirements. Although new federal rules specify that institutions must have state authorization to offer programs via distance learning when it is required by the state, such approval has always been required in Wisconsin.

Approval Required

Generally, institutions must be approved if they enroll "Wisconsin students" in online programs. Unlike most other states, institutions do not need to have physical presence in Wisconsin to trigger the need for approval by the Educational Approval Board (EAB), the cognizant regulatory agency in the state.

Under s.38.50 (2), Wis. Stats., "[t]he board shall protect the general public by inspecting and approving private trade, correspondence, business, and technical schools doing business within this state, whether located within or outside this state,...and courses of instruction offered by the schools and regulate the soliciting of students for correspondence or classroom courses and courses of instruction offered by the schools." Therefore, institutions with online programs must obtain EAB approval if they enroll students from the state of Wisconsin.

Exemptions

Wisconsin statutes provide a general exemption from EAB oversight for publically-governed and religious institutions. While the statutes also provide an exemption for certain non-profit, in-state institutions, no out-of-state, non-profit institutions are exempt from EAB oversight.

Publically Governed Institutions

Under s.38.50 (1)(e) 2., Wis. Stats., "[s]chools that are supported mainly by taxes" are exempt from EAB oversight. Because the exemption is not restricted to public institutions governed by the state of Wisconsin, the EAB has consistently interpreted it to mean any public college or university that is an instrumentality of a state is exempt.

Should public institutions offer online programs in a regulated profession, such as nursing, counseling, social work or teacher training, the EAB strongly advises institutions to contact the respective oversight bodies (e.g., the Department of Safety and Professional Services or the Department of Public Instruction) about requirements specific to those programs to ensure they conform to the state of Wisconsin's licensure requirements.

Religious Institutions

Under s.38.50(1)(e)3., Wis. Stats., the EAB does not regulate "schools of a parochial or denominational character offering programs having a sectarian objective." For example, a college offering programs leading to a degree in divinity, theology or pastoral counseling would not need EAB approval. However, if an institution offers degree programs such as music, business, or teaching, which are not limited to use in the ministry, then the institution must be EAB-approved.

Approval Process

In Chapter 11 of its Administrative Code, the EAB acknowledges that distance learning presents a materially new context for Wisconsin to protect consumers. Because the oversight of online programs differs from those offered on-ground, EAB 11 makes several "accommodations" for distance learning providers in its approval process and fees. For example, if a school has approval from another state whose requirements are substantially equivalent to those of the EAB, then the board may accept that state's approval as fulfilling all or parts of the approval process.

Information and materials regarding EAB approval, including the School and Program Approval Guide, are available here. Additionally, the EAB's statutory and administrative code provisions, including the specific distance learning requirements found in EAB 11, are available here .

School Approval Needed - Contact the EAB

If you believe your institution needs approval based on the preceding information because it currently enrolls (or plans to enroll) Wisconsin residents in an online program, please contact the EAB and ask to speak with a school administration consultant to discuss the approval process, as well as the specific distance learning requirements and accommodations contained in EAB 11.

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