Participation within the nationwide state reciprocity agreement (NC-SARA) effort is increasing. Two states (Indiana and North Dakota) from the Midwestern Higher Education Compact (MHEC) joined earlier this year. In addition, most recently, five states (Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada and Washington) have joined SARA through the WICHE State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement. These five states alone represent 258 accredited higher education institutions.
Also, Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska have all passed legislation that will allow them to submit applications to M-SARA before the end of 2014. Furthermore, Illinois, Missouri, Minnesota and Ohio are on track to pass legislation by the end of this year.
Though the members of SARA are states (not institutions) and SARA does not replace state authorization, accredited federally recognized institutions can operate under SARA. As such, the efforts of NC-SARA have become key to helping institutions become compliant.
For instance, in a move to continue efforts, NC-SARA board members met on May 14th to discuss a number of key items. As per the NC-SARA board meeting materials, the board agreed to:
- establish and operate NC-SARA under the provisions of federal IRC 501(c)(3) and have the organization incorporated and operated under the Colorado Revised Nonprofit Corporation Act (subject to final approval by the Executive Committee)
- adopt bylaws that would stipulate the following: purchase and maintenance of liability insurance, the development of investment policies, and the service term of officers
- establish membership of the executive committee
- move forward with a new policy (subject to final board approval) designed to address the collection of data, whereas institutions participating in SARA would be expected to submit annually the number of students enrolled in the institution via distance education delivered outside the home state of the institution and a list of programs that a student may complete without on-campus attendance. In addition, by 2016, enrollment would need to be disaggregate by program of study
- institute a new policy that would expect participating institutions to report, on a quarterly basis, the number of complaints and related resolutions (i.e., number resolved in favor of the complainant, number resolved in favor of the institution, number resolved by agreement, and number pending resolution and the reporting of complaints lodged against SARA institutions for activities carried out under SARA provisions).
Many institutions are looking to NC-SARA for support. For instance, findings from the May 2014 survey conducted jointly by representatives from PCEA, WCET, and MSARA revealed that although there has been a significant increase in colleges that are compliant in each state (20% since 2011 among respondents) and with those seeking authorization (increase of 10% in one year), many institutions (approx one-third of respondents) have decided not to pursue state authorization at all due to the cost and pending developments of SARA. For example, the average compliance cost for respondents (excluding staffing) was $28,833. Staffing alone could increase cost by .5FTE – 1FTE, depending on the size of the institution. Moreover, survey results revealed that the cost for public, 4-year institutions averages $40,000+.
NC-SARA was established to ensure that the SARA initiative provides a national solution. Among many efforts, SARA may help to reduce costs, ensure quality distance education programming, provide for complaint resolution and consumer protection, and increase access to education.
The recent indecision of the U.S. Department of Education rule-making panel regarding state authorization has a direct impact on students and institutions. It has drawn attention to the NC-SARA efforts for many.
As it stands, the rule making panel’s failure to reach consensus means that some students would not be able to receive Federal financial aid to enroll in distance learning courses and some institutions may even have to resubmit applications for approval.
Opponents have been adamant regarding distance-education programming, stating that such programs “could be eligible for federal student aid only if they were approved by a state with an ‘active process’ for authorizing them”. In this case, the ‘active process’ refers to a procedure that does more than approve programs solely based on accreditation status and/or years of operation.
The U.S. Department of Education stated clearly that though it would not dictate the specifics of “active process”, some consideration should be given to the institutions’ financials and study-refund policy. Many do expect any proposed regulations to be challenged. However, a request for public comment must take place prior to the any of final regulations being instituted.
Many believe that as a result of this past week’s events, the efforts of NC-SARA are now even more vital. However, Marshall Hill (executive director of NC-SARA) stated that it would not be ideal for the U.S. Department of Education to issue a ruling just yet. He continued by stating (as per the Chronicle of Higher Education), “I don’t want SARA to succeed because it’s an alternative to bad policy. I want it to succeed alongside good policy.”
Needless to say, there is much still left to be discussed. Watch for updates as this issue continues to unfold.
Post Written by: Dr. Laurie G. Hillstock: Facilitator, SLOAN C Leadership Series
Dr. Laurie G. Hillstock has been a faculty member and administrator in higher education for over 15years. Most of her experiences have been in the distance learning arena, focusing on strategic planning (i.e., organizational structure, policy, accreditation, and funding models), faculty and curriculum development, marketing, and student success.She has also taught a number of credit bearing courses in the online, hybrid, and web-enhanced learning environment.
Dr. Hillstock currently serves as a mentor for the SLOAN C Certificate program as well as a content developer and workshop facilitator for other SLOAN C workshops, including the Online Leadership series.
Dr. Hillstock holds a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership (Higher Education) and M.A. in Human Resource Development from Clemson University. She also holds a B.A. in English (minor: Computer Science) from Converse College.