Online Compliance…What is that?

Concurrent Session 9

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Assignment of credit hours, federal compliance, accreditation, instructional time….do these terms concern you when it comes to managing your online program offerings? This educational session is intended to help prepare you for upcoming regional accreditation and federal compliance reviews of programs offered online. 


I have a BA in English from the Ohio State University, an MA from the Union Institute & University/Vermont College in English & Women's Studies, two graduate certificates from Appalachian State University (Media Literacy & Educational Media Instructional Technology: Web-Based Distance Learning), and a Ph.D. in Higher Education Leadership from Capella University.

Extended Abstract

The Dean of Online Programs from a small, non-profit, private institution will share the plan presented to a review team during a recent reaffirmation of regional accreditation visit as well as the process being used to see it through implementation. This plan will ensure that the online programs offered meet the assignment of credit hour as compared to traditional, face-to-face offerings. According to the Federal Compliance filing packet published at the Higher Learning Commission’s website, “Those institutions seeking, or participating in, Title IV federal financial aid, shall demonstrate that they have policies determining the credit hours awarded to courses and programs in keeping with commonly-accepted practices and with the federal definition of the credit hour.” This has been in place for some time and a quick glance at various institutions’ websites will provide similar variations of standard credit hour policy which is easily applied to on-campus courses that meet face-to-face. Furthermore, there is another level for those institutions offering online courses or programs and the posted credit hour policies typically don’t answer the question of how are institutions ensuring the assignment of credit hours in their online formats? Additionally, the Federal Compliance filing packet instructs “institutions that provide instruction through on-line, alternative, compressed, or other formats should have policies that expressly address how that learning is determined, organized, and evaluated and how that institution goes about determining instructional equivalencies.” The plan that was created and is now in implementation stages provides such policies and process used to ensure that our programs offered in the online format are meeting the same goals and objectives as those offered on-campus. Evidence of such equivalency is being documented on charts, one per course.

Ah but…we’re not finished yet, the Federal Compliance filing packet further notes that in order to avoid being classified as a correspondence course, online courses must have “regular and substantive interaction between the students and the instructor, synchronously or asynchronously.” The process and charts being used are also tracking the types of content being designed into courses to ensure student to instructor interaction and to ensure that the required amount of instructional time is designed into online courses as it is often assumed to be in the on-campus versions.

Participants should leave with a better understanding of the components needed to meet the assignment of credit hour requirements for online courses. The planning charts will be provided to participants and placed on the conference web site so that the steps taken could be replicated.


“Federal Compliance Filing by Institutions.” Higher Learning Commission. A Commission of the North Central Association, 2014. Web. 6 June 2016.