Expanding student access to online courses among goals of new interstate agreements

At the start of the 2012-13 school year, online enrollment accounted for more than one-third of total enrollment at the nation’s degree-granting postsecondary institutions. Ten years prior, it made up less than 10 percent, according to enrollment trends tracked by the Babson Survey Research Group.
This rise in distance education allows for the virtual crossing of state lines in pursuit of knowledge and a degree — a North Dakota student taking an online course offered by a school in Indiana, for example, or vice versa. And those two Midwestern states have emerged as national leaders in an effort to make interstate distance education even more seamless and accessible.

In February, Indiana became the first U.S. state to join the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements initiative, or SARA. North Dakota followed suit in April.

Implemented by the nation’s four regional higher-education interstate compacts (including the Midwestern Higher Education Compact in this region), the agreements establish interstate reciprocity in the regulation of postsecondary distance education. They require approval by state legislatures; participation by institutions in each state is voluntary.

For participating institutions, SARA offers multiple potential benefits. For one, it reduces regulatory burdens — not having to seek independent authorization in every state where the postsecondary school’s distance-education courses are being offered. Secondly, these institutions have a broader market (more students) for their online courses. Students in participating states, meanwhile, could have access to more educational offerings.

Four North Dakota institutions and two in Indiana will be the first to participate in the Midwestern State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement. SARA is funded by a $2.3 million grant from Lumina Foundation. As of early April, in addition to Indiana and North Dakota, SARA-enabling legislation had been passed in Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota.

Stateline Midwest ~ May 20142.03 MB
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