Uncle Sam Expands '.edu' Domain

Beauty, theological and distance-learning schools will be among the educational institutions that will soon share online real estate with the likes of Princeton and Harvard.

The Commerce Department approved the expansion of the ".edu" domain name on Tuesday to allow usage by schools such as the Connecticut Institute of Hair Design and the American Film Institute.

Critics complain the expansion will cheapen the Internet neighborhood for its present occupants - generally four-year institutions and community colleges.

"Somebody who goes six months to a beauty school, I would not consider in the same league as somebody who's even been two years at a community college," said Ralph Meyer, a retired administrator at Princeton University. "There's too much dumbing down already."

For many years, the ".edu" domain name had been restricted to four-year colleges and universities in the United States.

In 2001, a university technology consortium took over management of the suffix and expanded eligibility to community colleges, which are accredited by the same regional groups as four-year institutions.

The consortium, Educause, then recommended further changes to include schools approved by specialty accreditation organizations recognized by the Department of Education.

Steve Worona, Educause's director of policy, said about 95 percent of the responses during a public comment period were in support of the change. He said the board considered the objections but felt on balance an expansion was warranted.

About 7,500 ".edu" domain names have been assigned to about 6,000 schools. Educause is now compiling lists of newly eligible institutions, and they should be able to obtain names in mid-April.

Mark Gross, chief executive of the National Accrediting Commission of Cosmetology Arts and Sciences, said the expansion should help his member schools gain standing.

"We all do different things, serve different needs of the consumers, but this begins to put all education in the same place, where it belongs," Gross said.

By Anick Jesdanun