Montana has been approved by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) to become a member of the WICHE State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (W-SARA). At the same time, Nebraska has been approved by the Midwestern Higher Education Compact (MHEC) to join the Midwestern State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (M-SARA). These states join seven others (Indiana, North Dakota, Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada and Washington) in the nationwide SARA 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. The effort is funded by a $2.3 million grant from Lumina Foundation.
The Montana University System (MUS) is comprised of 16 institutions, including two flagship universities, four regional universities, and ten two-year colleges. MUS currently serves 47,000 students. Montana also has three private colleges and seven tribal colleges. The designated SARA state portal agency is the Board of Regents of Higher Education for the State of Montana.
Nebraska is home to 52 postsecondary institutions with an enrollment of nearly 139,000. More than 137,000 students (duplicated headcount) are enrolled in online courses through Nebraska postsecondary institutions. Nebraska’s Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education is the SARA state portal agency.
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.”
Currently (August 2014), nine states have joined SARA; necessary legislation has passed in 14 additional states, legislation is pending in two more, and three other states have determined that no legislation is needed to enable participation in SARA.