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WASC Definition of Distance Education

There are two types of accreditation approvals pertaining to distance education:

  1. WASC approves the institution to offer any amount of learning by distance education.
  2. WASC approves individual degree programs to be offered as distance education programs if at least 50% of the required courses are taught online. 

Stanford has institutional approval to offer programs through distance education. No further action is needed for institutional approval of offerings through distance education except during reviews conducted as part of re-accreditation visits.  Institutional approval is necessary but not sufficient for individual programs to be offered as distance education programs.  An additional level of approval through the Substantive Change process is needed for any individual degree program to be offered through distance learning. This approval process is triggered when students are able to graduate/complete the degree with 50% or more courses through distance education (as defined below). This program-level approval must be sought and granted for each individual degree that will be offered through distance, including for versions of existing degree programs approved for in-person learning.

A course is considered as offered through distance education when there is regular instruction as part of the course that is mediated by video or audio technology.

Instruction includes:

  1. Giving lectures
  2. Leading or facilitating a seminar or group discussion
  3. Providing feedback to students or responding to student questions

Distance technology includes:

  1. Live streaming (including to overflow rooms)
  2. Video recordings (including of lectures where some students are in attendance in person)
  3. Phone, audio conference, etc.

Technology for the purposes of distance education does not include emails, texts, or the use of course or learning management systems.

Courses are considered distance education only when online learning is a regular and scheduled component of the course (i.e. as a part of the course schedule or syllabus). That is, students should understand when and to what extent teaching and learning will be other than in-person, that they will be assessed for the portions of the course requirements delivered other than in-person, and how they are expected to engage in the portions of the course that are not in-person to satisfy course requirements.  Courses that utilize online technology for ad hoc or one-off sessions are not considered distance education. 

A course will be considered as a distance course when only some  students may be instructed online and some are enrolled in-person. “Flex” and “hybrid” courses, where students are given an option of in-person or online learning formats, are considered distance courses.

A course will also be considered distance whether online instruction and learning is synchronous or asynchronous. 

Individual program approval is necessary if 50% of the courses required to complete the program can be considered as distance or online courses as defined above. 

For undergraduate programs, courses that are considered when determining the 50% threshold include those that are part of the general education required courses as well as those required by departments for an individual major of the bachelor's degree. That is, 50% of all required general education courses plus all required courses for the major would need to be “online” to trigger a WASC approval for undergraduate programs. Master’s programs may be more at risk of being considered “distance education” if 50% or more of the courses required for degree completion are offered at a distance.  Programs should seek approval in advance of offering the distance option to students. 


  1. WSCUC Webinar, “New Department of Education and WSCUC Regulations Governing Distance Education,” (July 2021).
    Video accessible here:
    Slides here:
  2. WSCUC Substantive Change Manual: A Guide to Substantive Change Policies and Procedures (September 2021).
    Accessible here: