WASHINGTON (WLNS) – Federal officials issued new distance learning regulations for higher education institutions today.

The Distance Learning and Innovation regulation started more than a year ago, but today U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos issued final rules on remote learning options.

The regulations include potentially shortening the time to complete a degree, simplifying rules on “subscription-based programs,” ensure incarcerated students continue to be eligible for Pell Grants, and letting students at foreign institutions complete up to 25% of their programs at an eligible institution in the United States.

“While we moved quickly at the start of the pandemic to provide temporary distance learning flexibilities for students, these new regulations provide a permanent upgrade to online and competency-based education,” said Secretary DeVos.

A significant policy change includes emphasizing demonstration of learning rather than “seat time,” according to a press release from the Department of Education.

The term “seat time” is typically a derogatory reference to the perception that course credits more accurately measure the amount of time students have sat in a classroom rather than what students have actually learned or failed to learn, according to the Glossary of Education Reform which was created by the Great Schools Partnership.

The regulations will officially take effect July 1, 2021, but institutions can voluntarily use the regulation as soon as it is officially published in the Federal Register.