Indiana has been approved by the Midwestern Higher Education Compact (MHEC) as the first state to join the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA).
SARA is a nationwide initiative of states that will make distance education courses more accessible to students across state lines, as well as making it easier for states to regulate and institutions to participate in interstate distance education. The SARA agreements 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). The effort is funded by a $2.3 million grant from Lumina Foundation.
“Indiana has enthusiastically supported the establishment of SARA from its earliest discussions and has been actively engaged in implementation of the concept,” says Ken Sauer, Ph.D., senior associate commissioner for research and academic affairs at the Indiana Commission for Higher Education. Recent changes made by the Indiana General Assembly have consolidated and streamlined coordination of Indiana’s system of higher education. Two changes in particular are of significant importance to Indiana joining MHEC-SARA. First, the Commission for Higher Education leads a newly created Indiana Board for Proprietary Education that oversees in-state and out-of-state proprietary institutions. Second, the Commission was granted oversight responsibilities for out-of-state public and not-for-profit institutions offering instruction in Indiana.
“This is really exciting for the Compact and for Indiana as we move this initiative forward for states, institutions, and students that will ultimately benefit from these reciprocity agreements,” said Larry Isaak, MHEC president.
States that wish to join SARA must demonstrate to their regional SARA compact that they have an effective process for authorizing institutions that want to participate in the reciprocity agreement. That process must include, at a minimum: acceptance of national or regional accreditation as evidence of academic quality for approving institutions to participate in reciprocity; acceptance of an adequate federal financial responsibility score (1.5, or 1.0 with justification, at a minimum) for such participation; and an effective state process for consumer protection (including addressing consumer complaints) and ongoing oversight. States also need to have the authority to enter into the reciprocity agreement, which in many will require legislative action. Lastly, states and territories that don’t belong to a regional compact but want to participate in SARA may either become full members of a compact or join, at reduced dues, solely to be part of SARA.
“SARA seeks to be part of the solution to issues in distance education and will save states and institutions time and money,” said Marshall Hill, executive director of NC-SARA. Once a state joins SARA, accredited degree-granting institutions offering distance education courses can seek approval from their home states. When approved, these institutions will be able to operate in other participating SARA states without seeking independent authorization. This process is entirely voluntary (as is the process for states). An institution that chooses not to use SARA can continue to work with individual states to obtain approval to offer distance education to individuals residing in those states.