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State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement Draft Released

18 July 2012
The Presidents’ Forum and the Council of State Governments recently released a first draft of a model interstate agreement pertinent to state authorization for distance education.  The State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (“SARA”) aims to reduce barriers to distance education through more efficient state regulation.  Under SARA, an institution that is approved in its “home state” would not be required to obtain approval from a “host state” if the home state and host state are SARA members and the institution choses to participate in SARA. 
State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement Draft Released

SARA was developed in response to the U.S. Department of Education’s program integrity regulations, which require an institution to obtain all necessary state authorizations to offer distance education to students in a state in order to award federal student financial aid to those students.  On June 5, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed a lower court’s decision to vacate the rule.  However, states continue to have rules pertinent to authorization for distance education regardless of whether students in the state receive federal student financial aid.  SARA’s drafters aim to address disparities among state regulatory practices and make state authorization more efficient, more uniform and less costly.

A state that seeks to participate in SARA would be required to present a formal plan and procedures that the state will use to authorize institutions in its state for SARA purposes.  SARA would require each home state that seeks to participate in SARA to adopt procedures designed to enforce a variety of standards “intended to mirror and reinforce the standards customarily used by accrediting bodies and states.” An institution’s home state would verify to other SARA member states that an institution meets the home state’s standards.

As currently drafted, SARA would apply only to degree-granting institutions that are authorized to operate within their “home state” and that serve students in multiple states via distance education. An institution that elects to join SARA would “be responsible for and accountable to” the home state for the “academic quality and appropriate delivery of” its distance education offerings, as described in various SARA standards.  Institutions that operate within SARA member states are not required to participate in SARA; non-participating institutions would continue to seek approval on a state-by-state basis.

SARA’s drafters seek feedback from state regulators, institutional organizations, and other interested parties. A final document is expected later in 2012, after planned discussions with regional organizations and accrediting bodies. States will then be encouraged to signal officially their intent to join.  Implementation has not been scheduled but is not likely before 2013.

Michelle Tellock

Michelle Tellock,

Washington, D.C.

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