Iowa to join interstate distance learning compact

23 other states are part of the agreement

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DES MOINES — Gov. Terry Branstad signed a bill into law Friday that he expects will help lower costs and streamline participation in distance learning opportunities by including Iowa in an interstate registration reciprocity agreement involving at least 23 other U.S. states.

Currently, out-of-state colleges and universities wishing to offer distance education to Iowa residents must pay a fee to register with the Iowa College Student Aid Commission and agree to follow Iowa’s consumer protection laws that apply to post-secondary students. Likewise, Iowa’s post-secondary institutions — including the regents’ universities, community colleges and private non-profit universities — must do the same as in other states where they wish to offer distance education.

That process can be “extremely cumbersome and costly,” Branstad noted during a bill-signing ceremony for Senate File 501. The legislation, which passed the Iowa Legislature without a dissenting vote, exempts post-secondary institutions of other states from the Iowa post-secondary registration and tuition refund requirements if the post-secondary institution participates with Iowa in an interstate registration reciprocity agreement.

Branstad said Iowa plans to apply soon for membership in the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements, which will allow Iowa-based colleges to pay annual fees of $2,000 to $6,000 to automatically register their distance education courses and programs in other member states instead of having to register and pay a fee in each of the 50 states, the governor said.

“That promises to save millions of dollars in future years that Iowa’s community colleges, regent universities and independent colleges and universities can use to hold down tuition costs in this state,” Branstad said.

Under the reciprocity agreement, a student seeking a refund must rely first on the laws of the state in which the school is operating. If that state does not guarantee a full refund, the student must rely on the provisions of their enrollment agreement with the school.

Under the new law, Iowans will be able to seek a refund from the Iowa Attorney General’s Office in the event that the first two options do not result in a full refund.

Senate File 501 permits Iowa students to receive a full tuition refund in need be under the reciprocity agreement by applying to the Iowa Attorney General’s Office for a refund of any tuition charges not refunded by the out-of-state school they attend.

The bill also creates a Tuition Refund Fund in the Iowa State Treasurer’s office under the control of the attorney general and appropriates any moneys in the fund for purposes of student tuition refunds. For the first year, the attorney general’s office plans to transfer $100,000 from the Mortgage Servicing Settlement Fund to the Tuition Refund Fund created in the bill for purposes of providing tuition refunds to Iowa students as required.

Also Friday, Branstad signed into law House File 504, an act relating to insurance, including electronic delivery and posting of insurance notices and documents and to certain duties, responsibilities, and liabilities of insurance producers; House File 626, an act relating to the processes for appealing tax matters in Iowa by extending the future repeal of the Property Assessment Appeal Board, providing for the future repeal of the State Board of Tax Review, providing for appeals to the director of the state Department of Revenue for certain tax matters and modifying the director’s powers and duties; and Senate File 486, an act relating to the approval and imposition of the facilities property tax levy and equipment replacement and program sharing property tax levy for a merged area.

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