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21st Century Distance Education Guidelines


Regional accreditors and other organizations have relied on the Council of Regional Accrediting Commissions (C-RAC) Interregional Guidelines for the Evaluation of Distance Education to maintain and uphold quality assurance for postsecondary distance education programs. C-RAC’s Guidelines were adopted by the Council of Regional Accrediting Commissions in 2002 and were last updated in 2011.

Topics Challenges Approach Impacts Resources


The National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA) commissioned NCHEMS to undertake an in-depth study to determine the extent to which there were similarities in consideration of quality between C-RAC’s Guidelines and each accrediting organization’s standards, policies, and guidelines related to distance education. As a result of this study, NCHEMS was then commissioned to create the new 21st Century Distance Education Guidelines.


Distance education programs have evolved rapidly since 2011, and the COVID-19 pandemic has also led to the expansion of remote and online learning. Assuring the quality of these programs has become increasingly important.


This study was completed through a review of publicly available documents and interviews with accrediting organizations’ staff. To create the 21st Century Guidelines, NCHEMS interviewed over 20 practitioners, scholars, accreditors, and state regulators to discover the best approaches to and concerns about the future of distance learning. The initial draft was further reviewed by additional accreditors, practitioners, and higher education leaders.


The 21st Century Guidelines are posted C-RAC’s website and the 2011 Guidelines have been retired. Several accrediting commissions (regional and specialized) will use the 21st Century Guidelines to develop new standards for quality assurance for distance learning programs.