SARA recently received attention from the NY Times, which reported on consumer groups’ appeal to NY’s Commissioner of Education, urging that NY not join SARA. In response, Paul Lingenfelter, chair of NC-SARA’s Board, wrote letters to the editor of the NY Times (see below ) and the Commissioner.
Paul’s letter to the editor:
Contrary to its critics, the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA) discussed in your March 16th article strengthens, rather than weakens consumer protection and state oversight of distance postsecondary education. When education through the Internet became feasible, previous approaches to state regulation and consumer protection became obsolete.
The then existing patchwork of regulations in 50 states failed to protect students from irresponsible practices. No state, not even New York with a substantial regulatory staff, proved able to regulate all the institutions providing distance education to its citizens. Other states with weak regulatory capacity attracted newly created (or mobile) institutions seeking to avoid regulation. And the cost of complying with multiple, inconsistent state regulations discouraged many well-established public and independent private institutions from offering distance courses.
SARA was designed by nationally recognized regulators, educators, and policy leaders to improve distance education quality, improve state oversight, and enable more institutions to offer such programs. Currently 36 states and 674 institutions (93.8% public or independent non-profit) are participating.
In SARA every participating state must assure that its own institutions conform to good practice standards in distance education and have a transparent mechanism for receiving and resolving student complaints. Every quarter SARA reports on its website – by state and institution name – the number and status of such complaints. States failing to address institutional abuses can be ejected from the reciprocity agreement. In addition, the attorneys general in SARA states retain the ability to take legal action against any institution, in or out of state, which violates consumer protection laws dealing with misrepresentation, fraud and abuse.
By joining SARA New York can improve protection for its students and strengthen a cooperative, interstate mechanism for assuring and enhancing the quality of distance education.
State Higher Education Executive Officers
Board Chair, National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement