New England State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA)
June 8, 2015
Boston--Vermont was recently approved by the New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE) to join the New England State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (N-SARA).
Vermont joins 23 other states nationally (Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming) as a member of SARA.
SARA is an initiative that will make distance-education courses more accessible to students across state lines and make it easier for states to regulate and institutions to participate in interstate distance education.
"Vermont will be a critical part of an expanding network of proactive states that are working together to benefit students, to strengthen institutions' online program provision and support quality assurance and consumer protection,” said NEBHE President and CEO Michael K. Thomas.
According to a statement from NC-SARA, "the Vermont Agency of Education provides leadership, support and oversight to ensure that the Vermont public education system enables all students to have the knowledge and skills necessary for success in college, continuing education, careers and citizenship. The agency works to achieve this goal amid intensifying public focus on cost effectiveness and accountability. The agency will serve as the state “portal” agency for SARA.
Once a state joins SARA, accredited degree-granting institutions in the state that offer distance-education courses can seek approval from their state to participate in SARA. The Vermont Agency of Education will begin accepting applications July 1, 2015.
When approved, these institutions will be able to operate in other participating SARA states without seeking independent authorization from those states. Participating in SARA is entirely voluntary for institutions, as it is for states.
"It is wonderful to have Vermont join SARA as the second member state in the New England region and we look forward to having their institutions participate in the initiative. Having nearly half the U.S. states join shows the importance of SARA in providing a streamlined alternative to the current state-by-state approach of authorization” said Marshall A. Hill, executive director of NC-SARA.
SARA is funded by a $3 million grant from Lumina Foundation and $200,000 from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Eventually, annual institutional fees paid directly to national SARA will fund the initiative as it moves forward.
SARA agreements are overseen by the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA) and are being implemented by the four regional higher education interstate compacts: the Midwestern Higher Education Compact (MHEC), the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB); the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE); and NEBHE.
About NC-SARA, MHEC, NEBHE, SREB, WICHE, and Lumina Foundation
The National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA) is a voluntary, regional approach to state oversight of postsecondary distance education. The initiative is administered by the country's four regional higher education compacts (MHEC, NEBHE, SREB and WICHE) and overseen by NC-SARA. States and institutions that choose to participate agree to operate under common standards and procedures, providing a more uniform and less costly regulatory environment for institutions, more focused oversight responsibilities for states and better resolution of student complaints.
The New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE) promotes greater educational opportunities and services for the residents of New England. It works across six New England states to engage and assist leaders in the assessment, development and implementation of sound education practices and policies of regional significance; promote policies, programs, and best practices to assist the states in implementing important regional higher education policies; promote regional cooperation and programs that encourage the efficient use and sharing of educational resources; and provide leadership to strengthen the relationship between higher education and the economic well-being of New England.
The Midwestern Higher Education Compact (MHEC) is a nonprofit regional organization assisting Midwestern states in advancing higher education through interstate cooperation and resource sharing. MHEC seeks to fill its interstate mission through programs that expand postsecondary opportunity and success; promote innovative approaches to improving institutional and system productivity; improve affordability to students and states; and enhance connectivity between higher education and the workplace. Member states are: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.
The Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) works with 16 member states to improve public education at every level, from pre-K through Ph.D. and is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization headquartered in Atlanta. SREB states currently participate in SREB's Electronic Campus Regional Reciprocity Agreement, and SREB is working closely with SARA to expand reciprocity nationwide. Member states are Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.
The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) and its 16 members work collaboratively to expand educational access and excellence for all citizens of the West. By promoting innovation, cooperation, resource sharing, and sound public policy among states and institutions, WICHE strengthens higher education's contributions to the region's social, economic and civic life. WICHE's members include: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawai'i, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wyoming and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana.
Lumina Foundation is an independent, private foundation committed to increasing the proportion of Americans with high-quality degrees, certificates and other credentials to 60% by 2025. Lumina's outcomes-based approach focuses on helping to design and build an accessible, responsive and accountable higher education system while fostering a national sense of urgency for action to achieve Goal 2025. For more information, log on to www.luminafoundation.org.
The current process for authorization is too varied among the states to assure consistent consumer protection, too cumbersome and expensive for institutions that seek to provide education across state borders, and too fragmented to support our country’s architecture for quality assurance in higher education — the quality assurance “triad” of accrediting agencies, the federal government, and the states. A new, voluntary process of state oversight of distance education has been created to redress these problems. The State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA) is a voluntary agreement among its member states and U.S. territories that establishes comparable national standards for interstate offering of postsecondary distance-education courses and programs. It is intended to make it easier for students to take online courses offered by postsecondary institutions based in another state.
- States and territories regulate higher education within their borders, with varying requirements for out-of-state institutions that want to do business in the state.
- Cross-state online education offered by colleges and universities is expanding dramatically.
- At present there is no alternative to each institution separately pursuing any needed approvals (state authorization) in each state and territory where it enrolls students.
- Consequently, thousands of institutions are required to contact and work through as many as 54 states and territories, and, sometimes, with multiple regulatory agencies in those states.
- That process is inefficient, costly, and not effective in supporting access to high quality distance education throughout the country.
SARA establishes a state-level reciprocity process that will support the nation in its efforts to increase the educational attainment of its people by making state authorization:
- More efficient, effective, and uniform in regard to necessary and reasonable standards of practice that could span states.
- More effective in dealing with quality and integrity issues that have arisen in some online/distance education offerings.
- Less costly for states and institutions and, thereby, the students they serve.
- Voluntary for states and institutions.
- Administered by the four regional higher education compacts (Midwestern Higher Education Compact, New England Board of Higher Education, Southern Regional Education Board, and the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education), which will begin accepting applications from states in their regions by early 2014. Once states are approved, they can begin to enroll eligible institutions.
- Membership is open to degree-granting postsecondary institutions from all sectors (public colleges and universities; independent institutions, both non-profit and for-profit) accredited by an agency recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education.
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