you may recall, the January 2014 issue of the ADEA State Update featured an article on the State Authorization
Reciprocity Agreement (SARA). 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. SARA is overseen by the
National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA), and administered by four regional
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)).
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.
To join SARA, a state must:
- Determine if the state wants to participate,
- Make any needed changes to state statutes or rules,
- Identify one or more agencies to solicit and approve
participation of in-state institutions and resolve complaints,
- Adopt an in-state funding model (if needed), and
- Develop and submit SARA plan to the state’s regional
States began applying to SARA in early 2014. According to
NC-SARA, Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada and Washington state have been
approved by the WICHE as the first states in the compact’s region to become
members of the WICHE State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (W-SARA).
Combined, these states have 258 accredited higher education institutions. These
states join Indiana and North Dakota, which were approved by the Midwestern
Higher Education Compact (MHEC) in February and April, respectively.
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 a participation fee to NC-SARA, and an
additional fee may be charged by their home state.
view state authorization legislation introduced during the 2014 legislative
session, please visit the ADEA
United States Interactive Legislative Tracking Map
and select “state authorization” from the dropdown menu.
the federal level, there has also been increased activity with regard to state
authorization. In May, negotiations came to a grinding halt as members of the Program
Integrity and Improvement Negotiated Rulemaking Committee failed to reach
an agreement on the U.S. Department of Education’s revision of a proposed rule
to mandate that all states require distance education programs to obtain
permission in each state in which they operate an online education program. As
a result of the failed negotiations, the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) can
now move ahead in re-writing its own version of the state authorization rule.
24, the USDE published notice
in the Federal Register delaying the deadline for colleges to comply with a
requirement that they obtain authorization from regulators in each state in
which they are physically located. The rule was slated to take effect July 2014,
but the USDE is pushing the deadline back to July 1, 2015. This is the second time the USDE has delayed the deadline.
 SARA is a voluntary initiative funded by Lumina
Foundation during its startup phase and by user fees from participating
institutions thereafter. SARA has its own board called the National Council for
SARA. Thus, SARA is not operated by the federal government.
 You may recall that in 2012 the U.S. Court of
Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled
against the USDE’s state authorization rule on procedural grounds,
finding that the regulation
CFR 600.9(c) is not a logical outgrowth of the USDE’s proposed rules. The Court remanded the case to the district court
with instructions to remand the regulation to the USDE for reconsideration consistent with the D.C. Circuit's
In order to address the
procedural concerns identified by the D.C. Circuit, the USDE sought to make regulatory
changes and added
state authorization to the list of topics to be addressed by the negotiated rulemaking committee.