Distance Education, State Authorization, and Disclosures

Distance Education at UW-Madison

UW-Madison uses the definition for distance education as set by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), the university’s accrediting body. Per the HLC, distance education is education that uses one or more of the technologies listed below 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:

  1. The internet.
  2. One-way and two-way transmissions through open broadcast, closed circuit, cable, microwave, broadband lines, fiber optics, satellite or wireless communications devices.
  3. Audio conferencing.
  4. 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 above.

State Authorization

Pursuant to s. 39.85, Wis. Stats., et. al, the State of Wisconsin is a member of the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA) through the Midwestern Higher Education Compact. SARA regulates the manner in which participating institutions may offer distance learning education to students who reside in other states. On September 7, 2016, the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA) approved UW-Madison’s participation in SARA. NC-SARA is a voluntary, regional approach to state oversight of postsecondary distance education. The terms and conditions of SARA can be found at SARA Policies and Standards.

At this time, 49 of the 50 U.S. states are SARA members, however, the remaining non-SARA state of California does not regulate online distance education programs, therefore UW-Madison is authorized to offer distance education programs to residents in all 50 states.

International Enrollments

UW-Madison works to provide global access to its online degree programs. While we monitor issues related to international authorization and licensure, it is each student’s responsibility to understand current circumstances or special requirements that may determine whether an online degree will be recognized in a country other than the United States, how student data may be used in another country, and whether withholding taxes (in addition to the price of tuition) will apply. Some countries may not formally recognize foreign online degrees, which may have implications for those who later seek to enroll in other educational programs, or for those who seek employment with that country’s government or other employers requiring specific credentials.

International students considering an academic program that leads to a professional license should first confirm with the appropriate professional licensing board in their country of residence or the country where they intend to work as to whether a UW-Madison online degree will be recognized when seeking licensure or certification.

SARA and Student Complaints

If a student has a complaint that involves distance learning education offered under the terms and conditions of SARA, the student must file a complaint with the institution first to seek resolution. If no resolution is reached, then the student may file a complaint with the Wisconsin Distance Learning Authorization Board (DLAB) through the State Authorization Reciprocity Complaint Process. For purposes of this process, a complaint is defined as a formal assertion in writing that the terms of this agreement, or of laws, standards or regulations incorporated by the SARA Policies and Standards have been violated by the institution operating under the terms of SARA.

Additional information can be found at the DLAB Frequently Asked Questions.

Outside State Complaints Relating to Distance Learning

Pursuant to the United States Department of Education’s Program Integrity Rule, UW-Madison is required to provide all prospective and current students with the contact information of the state agency that handles complaints against postsecondary education institutions offering distance learning or correspondence education within Wisconsin. Students are encouraged to utilize the institution’s internal complaint or review policies and procedures prior to filing a complaint with the state agency. The student complaints process for Wisconsin is available here.

Verification of Student Identity and Protection of Privacy

UW-Madison verifies student identity through a system of secure logins and passwords first established for a student at the time of admission. A student ID card and a NetID are assigned to all students. The NetID and password are required for students to login to university computing and networking services, including the learning management system (i.e., Canvas), MyUW, O365, Google, Box, etc. The university uses Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) to add an extra layer of security to the NetID login process. MFA combines the NetID/password with a smartphone/token/fob to verify identity. This extra step helps protect online identities and UW-Madison digital assets.

The same standards are used for secure login to Canvas for distance education courses as is required for login services required for face-to-face instruction, and for students to access payment and financial records. Course rosters include pictures of students taken for their student ID card. Many online classes use video-conferencing, thus instructors have an opportunity to match faces and names.

Tuition and Fee Policies

UW System institutions are responsible for complying with federal regulations governing participation in the student financial assistance programs authorized under Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended. The Tuition and Fee Policies for Refund/Withdrawals/Drops are available on the UW System website in section C.4.

There are no additional costs charged directly to the student because of an online learning modality. There are very rare instances where additional fees are incurred for e-proctoring, but those fees are absorbed by the academic department or the school/college/division and not passed on to the student, unless approved as a course fee. Such course fees are specified the Course Search & Enroll app.