Distance Education Policy Statement

Print Friendly

University Policy Number 3001


Responsible Office:

Policy Procedure:

  • N/A

Related Law & Policy:

  • N/A


Distance education is fertile ground for fostering innovation in teaching and learning.  Such innovation meets the changing demands of students and attracts faculty that are diverse, excellent in teaching, active in pure and applied research, and responsive to the needs of students and the community.  Developing, implementing, and evaluating academic Distance Education programs supports the mission of George Mason University by:

  • Increasing access to university courses and programs
  • Providing appropriate instruction for different kinds of learners through a range of academic experiences
  • Supporting entrepreneurship
  • Broadening the institution’s reputation in Northern Virginia and beyond


George Mason University’s distance education policy contains three critical criteria:

  1. All distance education courses and programs must be reported according to the “substantive change” policy of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS).  SACS’ substantive change guidelines are posted at: http://sacscoc.org/pdf/081705/Substantive%20change%20policy.pdf.  Distance education activities also may need to be reported to disciplinary accreditation organizations, as appropriate.
  2. All distance education courses and programs must comply with George Mason University’s academic policies (http://provost.gmu.edu/academic-policy/).  Distance education programs will adhere to the highest standards of quality in the development and delivery of courses and programs, the provision of support services, and the use of infrastructure.   In particular:a. Current approval processes and oversight responsibilities, provided by such groups as curriculum committees and the Graduate Council, will apply to all distance education activities at George Mason University.

    b. Regardless of delivery methods, the curriculum and educational outcomes will be equivalent to those of courses offered through traditional methods.

    c. All distance education courses and programs must undergo routine evaluation and assessment (https://assessment.gmu.edu/ ).  Both the assessment of student achievement and evaluation of the overall program take on added importance as new teaching methodologies evolve. George Mason University supports evidence-based, participatory, and systematic methods to ensure distance education programs are achieving stated outcomes.  The results of such inquiry are used to guide curriculum design, delivery, pedagogy, and educational processes, and will inform fiscal, policy and other decisions over time.  Courses taught using distance education methods use university-developed course evaluation mechanisms and other quality measures as may be available and appropriate.

  3. Distance education at George Mason University will address the specific circumstances associated with the teaching method and delivery.Syllabi for courses delivered through distance education must also specify hardware, software, and equipment requirements.  Clearly stated minimum technical competency levels will increase the likelihood of student success.  Robust orientation of students and faculty who participate in distance education is required to help ensure maximum success and efficient use of resources.

    Materials describing programs delivered through distance education must provide details on the delivery of course and program content, as well as the rationale for choices regarding content, examinations and assessment, time limits for completion of coursework, faculty-student contact, security, integrity, ethical behavior, advising, faculty qualifications, and technical, instructional, and administrative support requirements.


George Mason University adheres to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ definition of distance education as a: “formal educational process in which the majority of the instruction (50% or more of instruction and interaction among student and faculty, as measured by contact hours) in a course occurs when students and instructors are not in the same place.  Instruction may be synchronous or asynchronous. A distance education course may employ correspondence study, or audio, video, or computer technologies” (SACS, 2007).

(Definition adopted by SACS Commission on Colleges, June 1997; Updated in accord with the revised Principles, December 2006, 2007)


The academic deans are responsible for ensuring compliance with substantive changes within their colleges.  The deans are responsible and accountable for monitoring and timely reporting of all actions that may trigger a substantive change notification and/or approval.  Examples of such changes are: establishment of a new degree, merger or elimination of an existing degree; organizational changes at the department or college level such as creation of a new degree, academic unit, or merger of same; initiating a program at an off-campus site not previously approved by SCHEV and SACS; adding significantly different programs at an approved site; initiating programs/courses offered through contractual agreement or consortium; or offering 25% or more of a program through distance education.

It is essential and expected that units will inform relevant committees and administrative units of plans to offer academic programs and courses through distance education.  Programs or courses that have not received prior approval as required by SCHEV or SACS, or both, may not be initiated.

The Senior Vice President and Provost and his or her designees are assigned responsibility for ensuring compliance with substantive change at the university level.  Actions that may trigger substantive change reporting and/or approval are evaluated and approved by the respective vice presidents and deans for undergraduate and graduate education.  The designated SACS compliance officer in the Provost’s Office coordinates submission of required documents and notification of program leaders and college and university administrators once approval has been received.


The policies herein are effective September 1, 2009.  This policy shall be reviewed and revised, if necessary, annually to become effective at the beginning of the university’s fiscal year, unless otherwise noted.


Maurice W. Scherrens
Senior Vice President

Peter N. Stearns

Date approved: August 18, 2009