San Diego State University

Distance Education Policy



For the purposes of this policy, distance education is defined as a formal educational process in which the majority of the instructional interaction occurs when student and instructor are not in the same place. Instruction may be synchronous or asynchronous.* Distance education may include correspondence, audio, video, or computer technologies. This policy shall apply to all credit-bearing courses and programs offered through distance education by San Diego State University, including those offered as Special Sessions through the College of Extended Studies.


The following guidelines shall apply to new distance education courses and programs, as well as to existing courses and programs in which the method of delivery has changed significantly from that approved in the original curriculum proposal leading to that course, certificate or degree. Any department or faculty group offering distance education programs (those in which more than half of the courses are offered through distance education) is expected to meet Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) requirements and be guided by policy established by the University. In addition, a department or faculty group is expected to address, in its self-studies and/or proposals for institutional change, the following expectations, which will be reviewed by the University and perhaps by the regional accrediting commission.*



The following basic principles have been articulated:

  1. While the University prizes academic freedom and wishes to encourage innovation in instruction, the faculty also has a collective responsibility to ensure the academic quality and integrity of the University’s courses, programs, and degrees. This responsibility extends to those courses and programs offered through distance education.
  2. Faculty and students have a right to know the modes of delivery and technological requirements of each course, program, and degree offered by the University. Students shall have access to this information before enrolling in a course or program.
  3. Distance education programs and courses shall be consistent with the educational mission of the College and the University.
  4. Tenured or probationary faculty shall direct any culminating experience or capstone of a distance education program.
  5. Each program shall provide the opportunity for substantial, personal, and timely interactions between faculty and students and among students.
  6. The proportion of tenured and probationary faculty teaching in a distance education program shall approximate that of the campus-based program.
  7. Admissions criteria shall be comparable for students on and off campus.
  8. Financial plans for program delivery and student participation shall be pre-approved.
  9. Students shall have adequate access to library and student services.
  10. The university shall offer appropriate training and support services to faculty who teach distance education courses and programs.
  11. Distance education is an optional mode of instruction. Nothing in this policy shall imply that distance education is a preferred or required mode of instruction.



These eleven principles shall be applied in the following ways:

  1. Curriculum and Instruction:
    1. In the curricular review process, distance education programs shall demonstrate that they provide the opportunity for substantial, personal, and timely interactions between faculty and students and among students.
    2. One-on-one mentoring with a tenured or probationary SDSU faculty member associated with the program is required for a graduate culminating experience.
    3. The faculty of the program assumes responsibility for and exercises oversight over a distance education program, ensuring both the rigor of the courses and program and the quality of instruction.* This includes:
      1. The selection and evaluation of formally approved adjunct and/or part-time faculty.
      2. Maintaining approximately the same ratio of tenured/probationary faculty to adjunct and/or part-time faculty in the distance learning program as in the campus-based program.
      3. Ensuring that the technology used suits the nature and objectives of the courses and program.*
      4. Ensuring the currency of materials, courses, and program.*
      5. Ensuring the integrity of student work and the credibility of the degrees and credits the University awards.* It is the responsibility of the faculty to ensure that reasonable safeguards are in place to prevent academic dishonesty.
    4. Ownership of materials, faculty compensation, copyright issues, and the utilization of revenue derived from the creation and production of software, telecourses, or other media products shall be agreed upon by the faculty and the University (in accordance with the SDSU Intellectual Property Policy) prior to the initial offering of a course or program.
    5. No individual, program, or department shall agree in a contract with any private or public entity to deliver distance education courses or programs on behalf of SDSU without prior university approval from the Office of Graduate and Research Affairs.
    6. The university shall not agree in a contract with any private or public entity to deliver distance education courses or programs without the prior approval of the relevant department or program.
    7. Agencies providing funding for special certificates or degree programs or courses shall not acquire any privileges regarding the admission standards, academic continuation standards or degree requirements for students or faculty attached to a university-approved academic program.
  2. Evaluation and Assessment:
    1. The Graduate Council Curriculum Committee or the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee shall review all distance education courses and programs, even if the curriculum is largely derived from existing campus-based courses or programs. When distance education proposals are to be considered by either committee, it shall be expanded to include three non-voting, ex-officio experts in distance education selected by the Committee on Committees: one from the faculty, one from the instructional technology staff, and one from the administration. Distance education programs shall also be reviewed by those committees charged by policy with curricular program review.
    2. The method of delivery for new courses and programs shall become part of each curriculum proposal, to be reviewed under the normal curricular process.
    3. Any significant change in the method of delivery for existing courses or programs shall be submitted as a course change proposal, to be reviewed by the Graduate Council Curriculum Committee or the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee. When such a proposal is to be considered by either committee, it shall be expanded in the way described above under 2.a.
    4. The Academic Review process shall be used to evaluate the educational effectiveness of distance education courses and programs (including assessments of student based learning outcomes, student retention, and student satisfaction), and when appropriate, determine comparability to campus-based programs.* This process shall also be used to assure the conformity of distance education courses and programs to prevailing quality standards in the field of distance education.
    5. A review and approval of all distance education courses and programs, including those initially approved by their colleges, shall begin immediately and conclude within two years of the implementation of this policy. This review shall follow the normal process specified in the policy file.
  3. Library and Learning Resources:
    The program administrators shall provide evidence in the curricular proposal that:
    1. Students have adequate access to and support in the use of appropriate library resources;*
    2. Students have access to laboratories, facilities, and equipment appropriate to the courses or programs.*
  4. Student Services and Admissions:
    The program administrators shall provide evidence in the curricular proposal that:
    1. Students are provided adequate access to the range of student services appropriate to support the program, including admissions, financial aid, academic advising, delivery of course materials, and placement and counseling;*
    2. Students are provided with an adequate means for resolving student complaints;*
    3. Students are provided advertising, recruiting and admissions information that adequately and accurately represents the program's requirements and services;*
    4. Students who are admitted possess the knowledge and equipment necessary to use the technology employed by the program;* and
    5. Technical advice is available to students to resolve hardware and software problems.*
  5. Facilities and Finances:

    The program administrators shall provide evidence in the curricular proposal that:

    1. University standards are followed in setting course-loads per instructor and/or academic unit.
    2. The program or department possesses or has access to the equipment and technical expertise required to deliver distance education courses and programs.*
    3. The long-range planning, budgeting, and policy development processes reflect the facilities, staffing, equipment and other resources essential to the viability and effectiveness of the distance education course or program.*
    4. Any distance education program has received resource approval prior to commencing operation.

* The Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) has developed guidelines for distance education. The guidelines are an extension of the Principles developed by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. The SDSU policy outlined above reflects many of the WASC guidelines set forth as of 03/08/00. The language used in the WASC guidelines has been incorporated into this policy, when deemed appropriate, but has been adapted to reflect conditions at this University. For the text of the WASC guidelines, please refer to the WWW site of the WASC at <>