Five WICHE states join SARA

Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada and Washington have been approved by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) as the first states in the compact’s region to become members of the WICHE State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (W-SARA).

Combined, these states have 258 accredited higher education institutions. These states join Indiana and North Dakota, which were approved by the Midwestern Higher Education Compact (MHEC) in February and April, respectively. SARA is a nationwide initiative of states 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. The effort is funded by a $2.3 million grant from Lumina Foundation.

“Distance education is a major part of higher education today,” remarked WICHE President David Longanecker. “Having states in our compact join SARA advances the initiative to benefit students with increased access to programs and provides better consumer protection in terms of complaint resolution. And as more states become members, the opportunities for institutions to benefit expand.”

The 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 New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE), the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) and the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE). Once a state joins SARA, accredited degree-granting institutions in the state that offer distance education courses can seek approval to participate in SARA from their state. When approved, these institutions will be able to operate in other participating SARA states without seeking independent authorization. Participating in SARA is entirely voluntary for institutions, as it is for states.

“SARA allows states to focus on their home-state institutions, rather than on institutions from many other states,” explained Marshall A. Hill, executive director of NC-SARA. “SARA can help expand educational offerings available to state residents and will significantly reduce costs for institutions that are active in online education, lessening this particular need to raise fees and thereby supporting affordability.”

As of May 14, 2014, SARA-enabling legislation has passed in 16 states, legislation is pending in seven more and five states have determined that no legislation is needed to enable participation.

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Comments

The willingness of these 7 states to take the lead on endorsing and validating the integrity of the SARA initiative is commendable. I have been known to express a degree of pessimism with regard to the extent of state "buy-in," and I remain concerned that some states will choose not to join for somewhat parochial reasons, including the potential loss of an attractive revenue stream. That said, I also believe that once SARA reaches what might be termed "critical mass" in terms of the number of states and their relative political weight, it will be difficult for the outliers to justify their aversion to reducing the regulatory burden on institutions - a burden that translates into additional cost to students.

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