Cunningham, Gopal Introduce Legislation to Increase Transparency of Online Degree Programs

With the growing popularity of online education programs in higher education, Senator Sandra Cunningham and Senator Vin Gopal  introduced a package of bills to enhance transparency around online program managers and the role they play in online degree programs.

“Prior to the pandemic, online students comprised over a quarter of the 20 million students enrolled in higher education,” said Senator Cunningham (D-Hudson), chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee. “That is why we held a hearing last February to take a closer look at the quality of online degrees and the growing use of for-profit online program managers. With online degrees often costing the same amount, or more than traditional degrees, and online degrees being viewed less favorably by employers, we feel it’s important to create more transparency around online programs and ensure students are educated on the differences in costs and student outcomes before enrolling.”

The first bill, S-3708, would establish disclosure requirements for schools working with online program managers. They would be required to display certain information relating to online program requirements and costs on their website, including admission requirements, financial aid availability and the average amount of institutional aid provided.

“Following the pandemic, it is likely many people will return to school to further their education and increase their employability in a struggling economy,” said Senator Gopal (D-Monmouth). “As many residents consider pursuing a degree, it’s important they are aware of the differences between online and in-person programs. Through this legislation, we hope to raise awareness around the private entities often profiting off of online student enrollment and retention.”

Under the bill, schools would also be required to identify the provider which helps run the program.

Under a second bill, S-3709, third parties would be required to identify themselves as such when contacting prospective students for marketing or enrollment purposes.

A third bill, S-3710, would require colleges to collect and report expenditure information from OPM contractors to the Secretary of Higher Education.

The final bill, S-3711, would require metrics reported under the New Jersey College Student and Parent Consumer Information Act, including graduation rates by major and student indebtedness, to provide numbers for on-campus students and online degree students. The bill would also expand these requirements to graduate school programs on-campus and online.