Page last updated: November 10, 2020
Distance Education/Alternative Delivery and Changes to Normal Operations
The CAA supports the efforts of programs and institutions to determine the best alternatives for graduate students to complete their degree requirements (including academic courses and clinical hours) as conditions disrupt normal operations. As your institution and program determine the specific requirements for graduation, the CAA’s expectations are that programs continue to provide opportunities for knowledge and skills to be developed, and that programs are confident in the competencies of their graduates to enter the workforce.
During this time, academic programs are encouraged to find ways to accommodate various methods for students to meet the standards (e.g. distance education, tele options, program extensions, etc.). We understand that this truly is an unprecedented situation and believe that the responsible and necessary course of action is that graduate programs must be prepared to extend the program for those students who do not meet the minimum standards.
- Please note that external regulatory requirements beyond the CAA and CFCC should be considered as you engage in contingency planning. For example, terminology or definitions used to describe distance education activities (e.g., hybrid, synchronous, and so forth) may vary across regulatory bodies, including how credit hours may be counted for distance education. As such, programs should consult with their university and institutional accreditor’s policies for specific definitions for distance education activities.
- The CAA expects that all programs providing distance education activities adhere to its institutional policies and procedures for verifying student identity for students enrolled in distance education courses. Specific elements are outlined in the Requirements for Review under CAA Standard 4.10, which include the consistent implementation and application of institutional student verification policies; protection of student identify; and evidence that students have been made aware of any fees associated with a distance modality.
- Additionally, to better assist you in that planning, we also strongly encourage you to consult with your university, institutional accrediting agency, and state’s regulatory/licensure guidelines, as well as U.S. Department of Education (ED) policies. The following resources may help you in your planning:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- U.S. Department of Education
- General Information: COVID-19 (“Coronavirus”) Information and Resources for Schools and School Personnel
- Office of Postsecondary Education/Federal Student Aid: Guidance for interruptions of study related to Coronavirus (COVID-19)
- For additional guidance on offering online courses, please visit the ED website, where there is specific guidance to academic institutions.
Advance Approval for Changes
Programs do not need to seek advance approval from the CAA for modifying curriculum or adapting modes of course delivery to address the disruptions as a result of COVID-19 at this time. However, the institutions in which the programs are housed may need to seek approval from their institutional accreditor to comply with Title IV requirements.
The USDE had issued guidance to universities and accreditors providing flexibilities through December 31, 2020, including waiving normal approval processes for institutions and programs to deliver courses through distance technologies. Last guidance was issued by the USDE on June 16, 2020.
If the program plans to make permanent changes for the delivery of the program, e.g. delivering 50% or more of the academic content through distance technologies (for current and future cohorts beyond existing disruptions), then the program must seek approval in accordance with the CAA’s Substantive Change policy and procedures (see pages 54–57 in the Accreditation Handbook). At its July 2020 meeting, the CAA approved a temporary waiver for programs seeking permanent changes to offer distance education for the timeline to file a notice of intent and the requirement that a change plan be submitted 12 months prior to enrollment. At this time, the CAA is not requiring programs that are delivering their curriculum via distance education on a temporary basis due to the pandemic to file a substantive change plan. When a program has been approved through the substantive change process to offer 50% or more of academic content online, an additional notation of “distance education” is added to the program’s information in the CAA’s program directory on the CAA website. Please contact the Accreditation Office if you have questions.
Reporting Changes to the CAA
The CAA requires programs to advise the CAA of the changes that they employed to support students in the graduate programs during the affected term(s). These could include a change to or an increase in the number of courses offered via an online format, modifying the sequence of courses offered, extending the time for students to complete requirements, etc.
In light of the current pandemic and its impact nationally, the CAA required all programs to report at the same time via the CAA COVID-19 Impact Report in September 2020 on adaptations used to address disruptions to the program. Initially, programs were instructed to provide a description of changes in their next annual report, but as the matter has become more complex the CAA wanted to have a more complete understanding from programs about the issues, challenges, and solutions with a single, brief report. The CAA reviewed the preliminary results of the report at its September 2020 meeting. It will continue to review and analyze the narrative data and comments to determine what steps are needed to better support programs and monitor compliance with the accreditation standards.
Potential Program Closures
The CAA is aware that the ongoing pandemic is having significant financial impacts on institutions and programs across the county. In the unfortunate event that an academic program is faced with the possibility of program closure, the CAA requires specific plans for providing, in appropriate ways, for the students, the faculty, and the administrative and support staff and for the disposition of the program’s assets and student records. Every effort should be devoted to informing each constituency as fully as possible about the conditions of the closing. It is critical that programs inform the CAA of these circumstances, given the effects of closure on the continuation and quality of the program.
Programs must notify the CAA when closure of an accredited program has been decided as soon as possible, but no later than 30 days after the final decision to close, including any component of the program, such as a distance education track or satellite/branch campus. Failure to notify the CAA Accreditation Office within the time lines may be reported to the appropriate institutional accreditor. (See XI. I. Reporting Program Closure in the Accreditation Handbook for more information).