Discussion on Distance Learning Compact Planned

Policymakers attending The Council of State Governments’ National and CSG West 2014 Annual Conference in Anchorage, Alaska, will have an opportunity hear about a new distance learning compact being developed by CSG’s National Center for Interstate Compacts.
The State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement is intended to simplify and streamline the process for authorizing online degree programs across state lines. The agreement aims to increase access to degree attainment and reduce costs for students, states and institutions. Participation in the agreement is voluntary for states and institutions.
“In order to fully realize the benefits of online education, consistency across state laws is necessary, and SARA achieves that,” said Marshall Hill, executive director of the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements. “We are thrilled that states are voluntarily joining the agreement and welcome the opportunity to continue discussions about SARA with state policymakers from across the country.”
The presentation in Anchorage will feature discussion about the need for the agreement, the development process, the specific areas covered by the agreement, the steps states and institutions need to take to participate and legislative progress during the 2014 session.
In addition to Hill, the session will also feature Paul Shiffman, executive director of The Presidents’ Forum at Excelsior College.
Efforts to implement the distance learning agreement already are underway.
Each of the existing higher education regional compacts is assisting its member states to ensure those that want to participate in the agreement meet the necessary requirements to join. The Presidents’ Forum and The Council of State Governments, as part of a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are supporting these efforts through the development of educational materials and sessions intended to help policymakers and institutions understand the goals of the agreement. These materials will be nonpartisan.
In order to participate states must:
  • Have the appropriate laws, policies, practices and processes for authorizing all accredited postsecondary education institutions that operate within its borders. In most cases, this will require legislative and statutory change; and
  • Have reasonable processes for monitoring authorized institutions and for handling complaints or concerns that are raised concerning those institutions.
The State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement was developed as a joint effort between the Presidents’ Forum, The Council of State Governments, the Commission on Regulation of Postsecondary Distance Education and the four regional higher education compacts—the Midwestern Higher Education Compact, the New England Board of Higher Education, the Southern Regional Education Board and the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education.
Over the course of the past two years, the organizations have worked to promote a unified and effective framework that would allow institutions to more easily offer distance learning courses across state lines while promoting student interests and consumer protection.
Here are some of the essential components of the agreement :
  • Participation in the agreement is entirely voluntary for states and institutions;
  • The state in which an institution offering an online program is located will regulate the institution's online offerings nationally and serve as the home state;
  • Each home state that agrees to participate in SARA will be responsible for ensuring participating institutions meet quality standards;
  • Each member state will agree to accept similar assurances from other participating states; and
  • The home state will use its existing structure for authorizing institutions. Participation in the agreement does not require the creation of a new authorizing structure.
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