Distance Learning Program Approval and Accreditation Process

Distance Learning Program Approval and Accreditation Process

Distance learning is becoming ubiquitous across the nation as higher education institutions strive to offer students flexible, affordable, and innovative opportunities to learn. The Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) defines distance learning as “a formal interaction which uses one or more technologies to deliver instruction to students who are separated from the instructor and which supports regular and substantive interaction between the students and instructor, either synchronously or asynchronously.” This definition applies to multiple modalities at Hawai’i Pacific University—online, hybrid online, hybrid in-person, or virtual. 

No matter the modality, distance learning at HPU continues to advance the HPU Mission of being an international learning community where we prepare our students to live, work, and learn as members of a global society.  In alignment with the HPU vision, we strive to design distance learning opportunities that are highly personalized, student-centered, and experiential while embedding our institutional values of Pono, Kuleana, and Aloha. As an institutional member of NC-SARA, HPU distance learning programs also follow the Interregional Guidelines for the Evaluation of Distance Education.

At HPU, curricular change is a faculty-driven process, requiring both college curriculum committee approval and approval by the university curriculum committees. All programs striving to be offered in a distance learning modality (fully online/online-hybrid/ in-person-hybrid/virtual) must be submitted and approved through the appropriate college curriculum committee and then the distance learning committee will make recommendations to the university undergraduate or graduate curriculum committee.  

In order to begin the process of developing a distance learning program, departments are required to go through the distance learning approval process.

Unlike hybrid or virtual programs, the fully online program designation—ONL— is for programs that do NOT have courses which require any on-campus activities (e.g. group meetings, testing, on-campus labs, orientations) and operate completely asynchronously, with optional synchronous opportunities as applicable. 

In order to gain approval as a distance learning program, departments are required to submit the distance learning program approval form once they have completed all internal college approval processes. 

In order for a distance learning program to be approved, the following criteria must be met:

  1. HPU departments and faculty must complete their internal college approval procedures and undergraduate/graduate curriculum committee procedures to request For .
  2. For fully online programs, all courses in the program must be offered completely asynchronously online with no on-campus or in-person meeting requirements.
  3. Academic, Student Services, and Helpdesk must be available to the student from a distance.
  4. Before ANY online course can be taught, instructional faculty must complete the Online Instruction Fundamentals asynchronous short course, set to launch in Summer 2022. This culminates in the design of a course map and the development of a course module which will be assessed by instructional designers using the Quality Matters Rubric standards. Once instructors have taken the short course, any subsequent courses being developed by that faculty member may bypass the short course and submit the course map and module for review directly to instructional designers using the HPU Distance Learning Module Review Request
  5. HPU departments and faculty should be aware of International Compliance regulations and digital services/export taxes if accepting students living in foreign countries, and may want to seek assistance from General Counsel.
  6. (Professional licensure programs only) – Programs must establish a written process to determine a student’s location at the time a prospective student seeks information about an academic program leading to professional licensure, or a student enrolls in, and/or an existing student notifies the institution of a change of address, for purposes of issuing the required disclosures under the rules as to whether the academic program, regardless of modality, fulfills the professional licensure requirements of states in which the prospective student or occupational licensure programs as well as certification programs. Each HPU program should make sure it is providing this direct disclosure and include a sample of its direct disclosures to current and prospective students in its policies and procedures documentation.
  7. Fully online programs must have an approved substantive change or administrative approval from the accrediting body, WASC. If we offer more than 50 percent of a degree program electronically distance-delivered, approval from WASC is required before student recruitment can begin. 
  8. HPU departments should also be aware that distance learning program development requires liaising with various HPU offices outside of the Office of Online Programs & Academic Partnerships, such as Marketing, Admissions, the Registrar, etc ... It is the responsibility of individual programs to follow up with the appropriate offices once programs have been approved in order to prepare programs for launch.

All courses offered in a distance learning modality (online/online-hybrid/ in-person-hybrid/virtual) must go through the appropriate internal college and undergraduate/ graduate curriculum committee procedures. Once a course is approved by the individual college, the process to approve it as distance learning can be initiated through the distance learning committee. The distance learning committee will evaluate course proposals given criteria developed from national and international distance learning standards and recommend them to the respective undergraduate or graduate curriculum committee for university approval. 

Distance learning courses must be intentionally designed to leverage what the modality has to offer.  Rather than conceptualizing a course that has already been taught in-person as “converting” to online, it is essential to frame it as designing a new course using similar content learning objectives.  Designing a new online or hybrid course is a time commitment, both in faculty development participation and in the actual design and development of the course (typically 100-150 hours before the course launch). 

Instructors should plan 3-6 months to develop the new course in advance of its launch to ensure time to work with an instructional designer to help frame instructional activities and provide feedback on the quality of course design. Distance learning instructors designing new courses should take the following steps:

  1. Register for and complete the Online Instruction Fundamentals short course.
  2. Self-enroll in the online course template to replicate best practices and consistent navigation.
  3. Submit your HPU Distance Learning Module Review Request 
  4. HPU instructional designers will review your module referencing the Quality Matters Rubric and provide you with one-to-one consultation support throughout the entire process.
  5. Once the review is complete, the course will be approved for further development.

Distance Learning courses must be continually assessed and revised to ensure best practices in a quickly evolving modality. Instructors teaching in distance learning programs will be invited to participate in faculty development summits for online instructors offered throughout the year.  Additionally, look for faculty development opportunities such as webinars, tutorials, community conversations, and advanced