State regulators attending the annual NASASPS meeting earlier this week received a first draft of the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA). With funding from Lumina Foundation, the Presidents’ Forum working with the Council of State Governments developed the document as a “’model state reciprocity agreement’ that states could adopt to acknowledge other states’ work and decisions in regard to institutional authorization.”
Ultimately, this effort is about improving quality assurance and consumer protection for students across the nation. While acknowledging the federal and accrediting roles in these processes, the goal statement in the draft document states:
“SARA offers a process that could make state authorization more efficient, more uniform in regard to necessary and reasonable standards of practice that could span states, and more effective in dealing with quality and integrity issues that have arisen in some online/distance education offerings. It could also be less costly for states and institutions and, thereby, the students they serve.”
In brief, SARA seeks to accomplish this goal by:
- Assuring that states in the agreement have authorization processes that meet minimal standards.
- Shifting the responsibility for authorization to the “home state” of the institution. Once an institution receives approval in its home state, it will not need to seek approval in the reciprocating states.
For those states outside that agreement, it will be business as usual.
Seeking Your Feedback
I serve on the Drafting Team of this effort and am also serving on the Committee seeking to implement a reciprocity agreement among the WICHE states. On behalf of the Drafting Team, it is hard to describe how difficult this task has been. There are many competing goals and needs to be considered.
We are now at a point where we are seeking broad feedback. Below are a few highlights of what is proposed, but you will need to read the agreement for details. Please make notes and give us your feedback.
For State Regulations
“Proposes a uniform set of minimal standards for state and institutional participation.” States seeking to join the reciprocity agreement will be expected to have institutional approval processes that meet minimal standards. While these standards are roughly outlined in this document, the initial set of states seeking to join the agreement will finalize those standards.
“Shifts principal oversight responsibilities from the state in which the “distance learning” is being offered to the “home state” of the institution offering the instruction.” Currently, states regulate institutions serving students in their state. This would flip that model so that regulators would oversee institutions from their state, regardless of where it serves students.
“Preserves full state oversight of on-the-ground institutions and campuses.” States will still regulate institutions that establish a physical location in the state.
Institutions need to obtain only one approval. Assuming that an institution is in a state that is part of the agreement, it will only need to obtain approval in its “home state.” The institution then becomes eligible to serve students in any other state that participates in the agreement. It will not need to seek approval in each state. For an institution from a state participating in the agreement, it will still need to follow the regulations of states that chose not to join SARA. If an institution’s state does not join SARA, that institution will continue to need to seek approval in every other state.
Many of the physical presence activities that “trigger” approval will be covered by the agreement. An institution approved by its “home state” will be able to offer courses at a distance, advertise, offer clincals or practica in a state, offer course on military installations, and perform other activities (as listed in the agreement) that formerly required an institution to seek approval in that state. Note that for clinicals and practica, this agreement will not cover any additional requirements of each state’s professional licensure organizations, such as nursing or education. Institutions will still need to meet those requirements individually.
Meets several financial goals at once. The agreement seeks the financial goals of and sometime competing needs of:
- The “host state” (where the student is being served) in covering the costs of assisting students who are being taught from other states. Regulators were worried that they would lose funding generated by the current model. A new revenue source is proposed.
- The institutions in seeking a price that is much less than what it would pay if it sought authorization in each state under the current regulations, but low enough that institutions that are currently out-of-compliance will seek to do so. Institutions are estimating that it will cost more than $100,000 (for some, much more) in fees to seek approval in all states. This agreement could be supported at a fraction of the cost.
- A central organization that would be needed to implement and manage the agreement.
Management is still under development. “The drafting team has intentionally provided minimal details on the operation of the organization that will be required to support SARA. Those would be generated by the entity itself, and the organization could be constituted and managed in a variety of ways.” The regional higher education compacts (WICHE, SREB, MHEC, NEBHE) are greatly interested in the implementation and management of SARA and are actively pursuing how they can do so.
We Need Your Input
“We look forward to engaging further the broad higher education community, including state regulators (NASASPS), institutional organizations, and other interested and affected parties.” Comments and suggestions are welcome. Watch for an announcement of an open webcast in which we will discuss the agreement and respond to questions.
Send your feedback to:
R. Crady deGolian
Director, The National Center for Interstate Compacts
The Council of State Governments
You are also welcome to provide your comments below.
Deputy Director, Research & Analysis
WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies
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