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Accreditation Requirements for University of Hawaiʻi (UH) Distance Learning Programs

UH departments considering distance delivery of a new or existing academic program should refer to specific procedures for their campus as outlined below.

Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)

WASC is one of six regional associations that accredit public and private schools, colleges, and universities in the United States. The Western region covers institutions in California and Hawaii, the territories of Guam, American Samoa, Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of Palau, Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands, the Pacific Basin, and East Asia, and areas of the Pacific and East Asia where American/International schools or colleges may apply to it for service. The oversight of WASC's accrediting activities is done by three Commissions, each dedicated to a different level of education:

  1. WASC Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities (WASC ACSCU) is responsible for the evaluation of the quality and effectiveness of colleges and universities offering the baccalaureate degree and above. In accrediting colleges and universities at this level, WASC considers a substantive change one that may significantly affect an institution’s quality, objectives, scope or control or triggers conditions established in federal law. Examples of substantive changes related to distance education are:

    • New off-campus location (50% of a degree program offered more than 25-miles from the main campus).
    • New distance education or correspondence program (50% or more of a degree program offered via distance education or correspondence).

    WASC defines distance education as: education that uses one or more of the technologies listed below to deliver instruction to students who are separated from the instructor and to support regular and substantive interaction between the students and instructor, either synchronously or asynchronously. The technologies include:

    • the Internet
    • one-way or two-way transmission through open broadcast, close circuit, cable, microwave, broadband lines, fiber optics, satellite, or wireless communication devices
    • audio conferencing
    • audio cassettes, DVDs, and CD-ROMs, if the cassettes, DVDs, or CD-ROMs are used in a course in conjunction with any of the technologies listed earlier.

    WASC approval of the substantive change is required PRIOR to the start of a distance program. (Substantive Change Manual, A Guide to Substantive Change Policies and Procedures, 2012).

  2. The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) is responsible for accrediting public and private postsecondary institutions that offer two-year education programs and award the associate degree. For the ACCJC definition of distance learning, see General Information for UH Community Colleges
  3. The Accrediting Commission for Schools accredits all schools below the college level including elementary, junior high, middle, high and adult schools, whether public, private, or church-related.

General Information for UH Mānoa Programs

Procedures and processes regarding the approval of distance delivered programs are posted on the UH Mānoa Distance Education website.

General Information for UH Hilo

These guidelines are based on current UH Hilo practice with the expectation that future faculty discussion will lead to a comprehensive definition and guidelines. The approval guidelines for a UH Hilo Distance Learning Online Program that is based on an existing UH Hilo program will be revised with the establishment of the UH Hilo Distance Learning Task Force in the Fall 2010.

For information on proposing new online programs, please contact Cindy Yamaguchi, DL Contact, at (808) 932-7652 or

For information on WASC substantive change review and proposals, please contact Seri Luangphinith, Accreditation Liaison Officer, at (808) 932-7217 or

UH Hilo Distance Learning Online Program Definition

A UH Hilo Distance Learning Online Program is a degree, certificate, or licensure program that is based on an existing UH Hilo program that is offered in distance modalities by a UH Hilo department for which admission requirements are established and to which students must apply and be admitted by department faculty. The Office of Academic Affairs and the Dean of the College in which the department is housed must recognize the status of these programs.

Faculty Commitment to an Identified Need

Department faculty identifies an instructional need and the intent to meet the need by distance modalities. Faculty are the advocates and the designers of the online program. The program faculty should be prepared to address the following:

  • Online Program Overview. State the type of distance education that is being proposed, the geographic scope, the projected number of students, the target student population, the initial date of the offering, and the anticipated life cycle of the online program. A viable online program will support at least one group of students through completion of the program.
  • Online Program Resources. List the online courses for a full cycle of the program, with faculty assignments, if available. Consider the impact of the proposed program on faculty workload. Ensure that there are sufficient number of faculty competent in and/or ready for training on online pedagogy for teaching and learning with technology. The start-up costs for technology equipment, faculty training, and/or faculty overload need to be addressed.
  • Online Program Evaluation. The learning outcomes for the distance learning online program are the same as the campus learning outcomes. Ensure that timely and appropriate levels of interactions between students and faculty can be maintained online.
  • Online Program Approval. The faculty endorses and generates the online program proposal demonstrating faculty commitment. The proposal needs to have approval of the department chair, division chair, the Dean, and the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs.

General Information for UH West Oʻahu

The University of Hawaiʻi-West Oʻahu is committed to developing distance education programs, concentrations, and certificates. Currently over 30% of our classes are offered in a distance modality. If a program already exists and courses have been approved for face-to-face classes, then the approval process to offer that program as Distance Education (DE) depends on whether there will be a need to submit a substantive change report to WASC, which would only be in the case of a program offering more than 50% of its coursework as DE. The internal DE approval process is not dependent on the percentage of DE coursework. The internal approval process is as follows:

  1. Faculty initiate the development of a DE program by holding discussions within their division and the VCAA.
  2. After these preliminary discussions, the faculty will submit a proposal to the Curriculum Committee.
  3. Curriculum Committee approves the proposal and is submitted to the Faculty Senate for approval.
  4. After Faculty Senate chair signs the document, it is then submitted to the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs for approval.
  5. Once the VCAA approves, it is sent to the Chancellor for final approval.

Those programs that offer more than 50% of their coursework as DE have to submit a substantive change report to WASC as an additional requirement for approval. Only those programs that intend to have more than 50% of their coursework as DE will have to submit this report.

For information on proposing new online programs, please contact Terri Ota at (808) 454-4823 or

General Information for UH Community Colleges

The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) includes the definition of distance education, based on language from the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA, Sec. 103, a.19.A & B), in its Substantive Change Manual (August 2015):

Distance education is defined, for the purposes of accreditation review, as a formal interaction which uses one or more technologies to deliver instruction to students who are separated from the instructor and which supports regular and substantive interaction between the students and the instructor, either synchronously or asynchronously. Distance education often incorporates technologies such as the Internet; one-way and two-way transmissions through open broadcast, closed circuit, cable, microwave, broadband lines, fiber optics, satellite, or wireless communications devices; audio conferencing; or video cassettes, DVDs, and CD-ROMS, in conjunction with any of the other technologies. (p. 31)

ACCJC's website has: an explanation of substantive change, the current Substantive Change Manual for campuses to use when preparing a proposal, the current Distance Learning Manual, and a timeline for the proposal process. In addition to covering a change in an institution's mission, geographic region or other specified category, substantive change includes a "Change in Courses or Programs or their Mode of Delivery that Represents a Significant Departure from Current Practice." For distance learning, an institution is required to submit a proposal when there is an "Addition of courses that constitute 50% or more of a program offered through a mode of distance or electronic delivery." Institutions are encouraged to review both manuals and the Substantive Change Policy that is included as Appendix A of the Substantive Change Manual and in the last section of the Distance Learning Manual.

To help institutions prepare proposals, the ACCJC Substantive Change Manual includes:

  • The Sequential Steps in a Substantive Change Review
  • Timing of Proposal Submission
  • Preparing the Substantive Change Proposal
  • Required Format and Content of the Substantive Change Proposal
  • Tips for Preparing Proposals on Selected Substantive Changes For a New Instructional Delivery Mode, and Considerations for Distance Learning Programs
  • Substantive Change applications that have been approved by ACCJC are available for the following UHCC campuses:

To request a copy of an approved Substantive Change proposal, please contact Peter Quigley, contact for UH Community Colleges' accreditation initiatives, at (808) 956-3869 or

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