Staff members of the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA) have written an open letter (click to view) to the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) in response to a report, “Ensuring Educational Integrity: 10 steps to improve state oversight of for-profit schools” that NCLC published June 18, 2014.
SARA staff consider the report valuable for advancing a shared agenda – the necessity to ensure good protections for students as consumers; however, they believe the report contains some misunderstandings about SARA and have written an open letter to address them. SARA is a nationwide initiative of states designed to 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. SARA is funded by a $2.3 million grant from Lumina Foundation.
The NCLC report states that, “the need for strong state oversight of the for-profit higher education sector has never been greater and is critically important because both Congress and the U.S. Department of Education have explicitly left the student protection role to the states.” In response, SARA staff note that SARA allows no exemptions from home state responsibility for the enforcement of standards—providing a significant net increase in state oversight responsibility and student protection for many distance education courses.
The National Council for SARA has specific standards for all participating institutions, which require appropriate institutional behavior regarding:
- Veracity of recruitment and marketing materials;
- Accuracy of job placement data;
- Accuracy of information about tuition, fees and financial aid;
- Complete and accurate admission requirements for courses and programs;
- Accuracy of information about the institution’s accreditation and/or any programmatic/specialized accreditation held by the institution’s programs;
- Accuracy of information about whether course work meets any relevant professional licensing requirements or the requirements of specialized accrediting bodies;
- Accuracy of information about whether the institution’s course work will transfer to other institutions; and
- Operation of distance education programs consistent with practices expected by institutional accreditors (and, if applicable, programmatic/specialized accreditors) and/or the Interregional Guidelines for the Evaluation of Distance Education, adopted in 2011 by the Council of Regional Accrediting Commissions. (All SARA institutions will agree to comply with those Guidelines.)
Any institution that fails in its duty to abide by SARA standards will not be allowed to continue in the initiative. Home states must enforce the standards and there are no “exemptions” based on accreditation.