Federal, State, and Accreditation regulations for online programs and courses

Online programs are subject to a variety of federal, state, and accreditation regulations in addition to those with which your programs may already comply. All new online programs must meet the standards set by NECHE and adopted by the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA) in their C-RAC Standards.

Below are relevant regulations and how URI responds to them. That response may include consideration or actions by departments and faculty.


From Guidelines for the Evaluation of Distance Learning

Standard 4: Curricula for the institution’s online learning offerings are coherent, cohesive, and comparable in academic rigor to programs offered in traditional instructional formats.

  • Preparing course maps and then a program map ensures cohesion and provides a basis for assessment. (See Curriculum Maps)

Standard 4g:  Course design and delivery supports regular and substantive faculty-student and student-student interaction

  • Regular is at least weekly and substantive means real feedback – not just a grade — to the individual.  It can be through email, in the discussion forum, on an assignment, etc. as long as it provides sufficient information for students to know how they are doing in the class and what they need to do to improve. 
    • Recent rule changes have defined “regular and substantive interaction” in more detail. This brief from WCET explains the changes and answers common questions.
  • Any course that meets the Quality Matters standards will be designed to meet this requirement.

Standard 5: The institution evaluates the effectiveness of its on-line learning offerings, including the extent to which the on-line learning goals are achieved, and uses the results of its evaluations to enhance the attainment of the goals.

  • Assessment of online programs follows the same principles and timelines as all other URI programs.
  • Quality Matters reviews are done for all new courses and every 4 years for existing courses.

Standard 6: Faculty responsible for delivering the on-line learning curricula and evaluating the students’ success in achieving the on-line learning goals are appropriately qualified and effectively supported.

Standard 7: The institution provides effective student and academic services to support students enrolled in on-line learning offerings.

  • Each department needs to consider how to provide advising to their online students.

Standard 9: The institution assures the integrity of its on-line learning offerings.

  • Faculty work with our instructional designers to create assignments that promote academic integrity.


In addition to the C-RAC/NECHE regulations above, NC-SARA has some additional regulations.

  • All online programs must inform prospective and current students who do not live in RI whether they are eligible to enroll in the program.  Please link from your website to the page we maintain.
  • Any program leading to licensure must contact Jack Humphrey to discuss the specifics of your program and what information about licensure that you must provide individually to prospective students before they enroll or change major.

Every year we must report to SARA the number of students enrolled in each program by state. Please make sure we have added your program to our state query by discussing this with the online office.

Federal Financial Aid

For programs to be eligible for financial aid, meaning that students enrolled in the program are eligible for Title IV financial aid, programs and courses must meet the standards above. 

Additionally, federal Financial Aid also requires that we can demonstrate the last day a student “attended” an online class.  This is not “logon info.” It is the last date a student actively participated in the discussion forum, submitted an assignment, emailed the professor, etc. Courses must be designed with this in mind meaning there must be meaningful activities for the student each week.

  • Any course that meets the Quality Matters standards will be designed to meet this requirement.