The National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA
) is a new initiative that creates interstate reciprocity in the regulation of postsecondary distance education. The initiative brings together the four regional higher education compacts—the Midwestern Higher Education Compact, New England Board of Higher Education, Southern Regional Education Board, and Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE)—to work to 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 State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA) is an agreement among member states, districts and territories that establishes comparable national standards for interstate offering of postsecondary distance education courses and programs. It is intended to make it easier for students to take online courses offered by postsecondary institutions based in another state. As mentioned before, SARA is overseen by a National Council and administered by four regional education compacts. NC-SARA is funded by a $2.3 million grant from the Lumina Foundation.
The members of SARA are states, not institutions or students. State membership is voluntary. Therefore a state “joins” or becomes a “member” of SARA while a college or university “operates under” or “participates in” SARA. States join SARA through their respective regional compact. According to NC-SARA, colleges or universities in a SARA state, therefore, only need their home state authorization to offer distance education to any other SARA member state.
States may apply to join SARA in January 2014. Any degree-granting institution based in the United States, holding proper authorization from Congress, a U.S. state or a federally recognized Indian tribe, and holding accreditation from an accrediting association recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education, is eligible to apply to its home state to participate in SARA if that state is a SARA member.
Degree-granting institutions may be required to pay annual fees for participating in SARA. For example, in the WICHE region participating states may charge fees to their home state institutions.Participating institutions will also pay annual fees to NC-SARA ranging from $2,000 to $6,000, based on annual student enrollment.