In recent weeks I have received several inquiries about that status of SARA – the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement. Since the national meeting in April, there has been activity, but it has been slower than hoped. To be clear, I am not in charge of SARA, but I have been part of many discussions and planning sessions. This update is not the official final word on anything. It reflects my understanding and opinions of what is happening. In a related issue, I’ll report on recent legislation introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.
A Delay in Funding is Delaying Activity
The ball is in the court of the four regional higher education compacts (Midwestern Higher Education Compact, New England Board of Higher Education, Southern Regional Education Board, and Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education) for further action. The regional compacts will be implementing SARA. Of the three efforts that have worked on reciprocity, the regional compacts were the only self-funded activity. At this point, there is so much detailed work required that dedicated staff is needed to take it forward.
A foundation is very likely to fund this work. Due to a variety of issues that have more to do with logistics and timing (and not the quality of the proposal), the funding has been delayed. The foundation is working closely with the regional compacts and there is hope that the funding will be announced soon. In anticipation of the grant, NEBHE and MHEC have already advertised for staff to support the SARA work in their regions.
Meanwhile, work continues, but staff is really needed to work through the next level of details.
Testifying to the U.S. Department of Education
In April, the U.S. Department of Education announced a new round of negotiated rulemaking and state authorization is one of the issues that they are considering. David Longanecker (president of WICHE) testified at an open hearing. Speaking on behalf of the four regional compacts, he spoke in favor of SARA. I also testified. While I briefly spoke in support of SARA, I also covered some issues the Department should consider if it reinstates the state authorization regulation. I saw the panel take notes when I mentioned that most institutions are still not fully in compliance.
Letter from State Regulators
I was on a panel at the NASASPS meeting in April 2013 to talk about SARA. NASASPS mainly serves state regulators and they still have concerns (and some misconceptions) about some of SARA’s provisions. They were invited to write a letter to the regional compacts detailing their concerns. Their subsequent letter raises legitimate issues. On behalf of the regional compacts, David Longanecker wrote a response that began to address many of the items they cited. He concluded by saying: “We will continue to work closely with NASASPS as our implementation plan moves forward, and we fully intend to include representation from the members of your organization in the advisory structures for all our organizing entities.”
National Council for SARA
Nominations for individuals to serve on the Board of the National Council on State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NCSARA) closed on July 15. The role of the Board (taken from the nomination letter) will be to “advocate for the expansion of the agreement and adhere to three core principles of operation: maintenance of a limited role within the overall governance of the agreement, responsibility for communicating information to the field, and representativeness of all stakeholders.” The Board will be “sufficient in size to assure that the perspectives of all stakeholder groups will be represented on the board, but small enough to be an effective working coordinating board.” Selection of Board members is expected to occur in August.
Regional Compacts to Work with States
Once staff is hired, the four regional compacts assist states in their regions in determining if and how to implement SARA in their state. There is a tentative plan for each region to hold an informational meeting this fall, but no dates have been set. While there will not be model legislation (since states differ so much), there will be a checklist of what each state’s laws and regulations should include to allow it to participate in SARA.
The necessary steps will need to be tailored to each state. Many states will need some form of legislation. With some states requiring possible legislative language to be under construction (if not finalized) by October or November of this year, I hope that the window of opportunity is not missed in any state.
What about those “Other” States?
New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania are not part of any of the regional higher education compacts, but there is a mechanism for them to play in SARA. Here is my understanding on the status in each state:
- New York — The state’s higher education leadership has researched options, but their discussions are still in the nascent stage.
- New Jersey — There has been extensive discussions among college presidents in the state and with the Secretary of Higher Education. They appear to be well-organized and ready to proceed.
- Pennsylvania — The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) was leading an effort for the state to join MHEC as a full member (with benefits beyond SARA), but this is still in the discussion stage.
Going Forward with SARA
I expect that once it is announced that the foundation has approved the grant that activity will move at a very quick pace with much activity this autumn. Watch for much more news in the next twelve months as this will be a crucial start-up year for SARA.
House Introduces Bill to Repeal State Authorization
The U.S. House of Representatives recently introduced a bill (H.R. 2637) that, if enacted, would repeal state authorization at the federal level. Additionally, it would prevent the Department of Education from promulgating any new rules on state authorization until the new round of reauthorizing the Higher Education Act is completed. The bill also addresses the credit hour, gainful employment, and other regulations introduced by the Department of Education.
In brief, the bill has a good chance of passing the House of Representatives, but will assuredly stall in the Senate as a similar bill did in the last few years. Even if it were signed into law (which is highly unlikely) it would have no impact on the many state laws already in place. States would still expect institutions to comply with their laws and regulations.
We will continue to keep you updated on all these activities.
Photo Credit: Morgue File – http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/145384