“Yessir. Them out-of-staters can come into town and do what they want. Sheriff can’t do anything ‘bout it. But us local folks, we gotta toe the line!”
Yes, it is a strange state of affairs. Us “local folks”—well that would be the regents schools. The “out-of-staters”—they are the hundreds of out-of-state online programs advertising a college degree in Kansas for Kansas residents. And the sheriff with his hands tied—that would be the Board of Regents (KBOR).
At their December meeting, the KBOR approved 220 out-of-state programs. There will be plenty more waiting for approval at future meetings. Kansas public universities have to go through a strenuous procedure to get just one new program approved. And then the regents schools have to meet ongoing performance criteria. If the out-of-state programs had to meet similar criteria, it would have taken a decade for KBOR to approve 220 of them. They don’t. That is why the introductory comparison to a sheriff with no gun is correct.
Let’s take an example of some out-of-state programs the KBOR approved earlier. The Dean of Education at the University of Kansas had moved on to the University of Southern California a few years earlier. Soon prospective students in Kansas were being solicited for the prestigious USC teacher prep program. Coursework would be delivered online. Student teacher supervision would be hired out to Kansas supervisors. Putting aside the ineffectiveness of online teacher education courses, a university in California has about as much business training teachers in Kansas as a university in Kansas has training teachers in California. We don’t have the same curricula. And we don’t have the same student backgrounds. USC did not have approval to offer Kansas programs, so they applied for it.
In September, the KBOR approved the USC proposal to train Kansas secondary teachers for certification in four areas: English, math, social studies, and science. According to KBOR regulations, approval means that their programs have been checked to ascertain that they can accomplish those degrees and these four degrees specified “with credential.” They weren’t. Kansas has licensure, not certification. And unlike California, Kansas trains biology, chemistry, physics and earth science teachers in depth, not one-size-fits-all science teachers. After USC consulted with the Kansas Department of Education staff and realized that they would have to meet in-state teacher-prep program documentation, USC decided not to train teachers for a Kansas license. So there are four dead KBOR-approved programs that aren’t going anywhere.
A Kansas student can take a USC program and get licensed in California, University of Phoenix teacher programs and get licensed in Arizona, or a Western Governors University program in Colorado. But all three of those states train broadfield science teachers that do not transfer to the 25 states like Kansas that train in-depth teachers in each discipline of science.
But most out-of-state university programs will not be inspected by another state agency after KBOR approval. Maybe they will provide a degree that will be useful to a Kansas student. And maybe they won’t. It will be up to Kansas students to track down the legitimacy of the programs themselves, because the KBOR believes they are compelled to approve out-of-state programs if they are accredited in another state.
Education at all levels is a state jurisdiction. Interstate trafficking in online programs should not leave Kansans defenseless. There is a serious danger of devaluing the U.S. college degree as well as students wasting money on worthless degrees. Certainly legislators can clarify that authority.
Meanwhile, Kansas students find themselves back in the wild, wild West. When it comes to upholding academic standards and defending against out-of-state diploma mills, there is no law this side of the Kansas border.