Streamlining Regulation of Online Higher Ed Providers Focus of CSG Effort

The country needs a comprehensive national authorization and regulatory model for long-distance education that will serve all interested states, accommodate all sectors of higher education and support quality, Paul Shiffman, executive director of The Presidents’ Forum, said Friday.

“As public investment in higher education has declined, as the cost of higher education has gone up along with a great deal of frenzy about regulation of quality, … all the planets are aligned to do the right thing and this is why this conversation is moving forward at this time,” Shiffman said at the “State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement” session.

States now have a patchwork of approaches for authorizing and regulating online higher education. The Presidents' Forum, CSG, the four regional higher education compacts, the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and the Commission on the Regulation of Postsecondary Distance Education have come together to create the agreement—also known as SARA.

SARA is a voluntary approach that allows states and institutions to work together to streamline the regulatory process and increase access to higher education and protect consumers in the process.

Shiffman said thousands of institutions are required to work through as many as 54 states and territories, sometimes with multiple regulatory agencies. The result is a process that is “inefficient, costly and not effective in supporting access to high quality distance education throughout the country,” he said.

Marshall Hill, executive director of the newly created National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements, said after the SARA framework is adopted at a regional level, states will be invited to participate late this year or early next year.

Hill said SARA will reap benefits for states, institutions and students. States will be able to expand educational offerings to residents and reduce costs for institutions, lessening the need to raise fees and thereby increasing affordability.

But Shiffman said the effort is about more than resolving state-specific differences and streamlining regulation.

“It’s about students,” he said. “We start from the premise (of) what are the barriers to students having access to a broad range of learning. … In essence, this whole effort is about giving the best palette of quality educational choice to students and allowing them to pursue their educational goals in an efficient and economically beneficial manner.”