Minnesota has been approved by the Midwestern Higher Education Compact (MHEC) to join the Midwestern State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (M-SARA).
This state joins 18 others (Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia) as members of SARA. 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 $3 million grant from Lumina Foundation, $200,000 from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and fees paid by institutions.
“Minnesota joining SARA not only benefits institutions in our state that offer distance education courses, it also benefits our students,” said Larry Pogemiller, commissioner of the Minnesota Office of Higher Education.
The Minnesota Office of Higher Education (OHE) will serve as the SARA state "portal" agency. OHE is a cabinet-level state agency providing students with financial aid programs and information to help them gain access to postsecondary education. The agency also serves as the state's clearinghouse for data, research and analysis on postsecondary enrollment, financial aid, finance and trends. Representatives from the Minnesota Office of Higher Education will begin accepting institutional participation applications on February 15, 2015. Information about SARA will be available on the OHE website.
“SARA is being strengthened every day with new states and institutions joining the effort,” stated Larry Isaak, MHEC president. “The streamlined process of regulating online education continues to enrich the interstate cooperation between our states and nationally, in turn improving student access to educational opportunities, and saving institutions hundreds of thousands of dollars in regulatory fees.”
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 from their state to participate in SARA. 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.
"We are excited to start the year off with Minnesota joining SARA," explained Marshall A. Hill, executive director of NC-SARA. "Now with 19 member states in the initiative, the benefits for students continues to expand nationally. This includes access to educational offerings, better resolution of complaints, reduced institutional costs, and enhanced overall quality of distance education."
As of January 26, 2015, SARA-enabling legislation has passed in an additional six states and four states have determined that no legislation is needed to enable participation in SARA.