Now that kids are back in school, we’ve traded in baseballs and bug spray for calculators and highlighters. Families across South Dakota are readjusting to early mornings getting kids ready to catch the bus and evenings spent working on homework at the table. In the Noem household, we’re getting ready to move our oldest daughter Kassidy back to college to start her sophomore year, while Kennedy and Booker try to get back in the school routine.

Life in the classroom has changed quite a bit since many of us were in school. Long division no longer requires time spent with pencil to paper, but rather number crunching in a calculator. Although our students are still taught how to solve problems the “long way,” technology has made a substantial impact on education. Elementary students now use iPads to learn cursive and memorize multiplication tables, and students in middle and high school can now take exams and write papers on laptops in the classroom.

When I was in college, my father died unexpectedly in an accident on our farm. I made the tough decision to leave college and return to our family farm to keep our operation up and running. I always intended to complete my college degree, but like so many individuals, life got in the way. I was raising three kids, running businesses and spending my days in the field. After years spent outside the classroom, it was a conversation with my sister that challenged me to return to school and finish what I started.

I enrolled at South Dakota State University, and because of the availability of online classes, I was able to complete my Bachelor’s degree, even while running for Congress and serving my first term in Washington, D.C.

I know firsthand that sometimes life doesn’t allow you to sit in a classroom and take classes the traditional way. This is why I recently hosted an E-Learning roundtable in Sioux Falls with local universities to find out ways the federal government can improve affordability and access to higher education.

A lot of the discussion focused on a regulation issued by the Department of Education which forces states to follow federal requirements when deciding whether to grant an institution, including institutions that offer online education programs, permission to operate within their state. I voted to repeal this burdensome regulation last Congress and will continue to work to give students access to classes, regardless of what state classes may be offered.

Education has changed drastically since most members of Congress were in school, which is why I formed the Congressional E-Learning Caucus with Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO). As Congress prepares to consider the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act this Congress, I look forward to sharing the feedback I received from students and administrators during my E-Learning roundtable with my colleagues.

If you have taken an online class or have an experience with distance education that you would like to share, I would encourage you to send me an email through my website at

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