Legislators at CSG Annual Meeting Discuss Distance Learning Compact

Legislators at the CSG National and CSG West Annual Conference in Anchorage, Alaska, learned about the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement during a discussion highlighting the compact’s history and potential impact for states.

“Distance education is not the only answer to the challenges facing higher education in this country, but it needs to be part of the solution and until we achieve reciprocity across state lines, we will never be able to fully take advantage of it,” said Marshall Hill, executive director of the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements.

The compact is intended to simplify and streamline the process for authorizing online degree programs across state lines. By making it easier and cheaper for institutions to gain authorization in multiple states, the agreement aims to increase access to degree attainment and reduce costs for students and states. Participation in the compact is voluntary for states and institutions.

“One of the most pressing challenges to distance education is the 54 unique set of rules and regulations institutions must work through to offer programs across state lines” said Paul Shiffman, executive director The Presidents’ Forum at Excelsior College. “Under the current system, each state has its own rules and regulations, which becomes very costly for institution and that cost is ultimately passed along to students.”

Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Nevada, North Dakota and Washington already have joined the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement and a number of other states are actively considering it. The existing higher education regional compacts are actively assisting their member states in ensuring that states wishing to participate in the agreement meet the necessary requirements to join. The Presidents’ Forum and The Council of State Governments are supporting these efforts through the development of education materials and sessions intended to help policymakers and institutions understand the goals of the compact.

In order to participate, states must:

  • Have the appropriate laws, policies, practices, and processes for authorizing all accredited postsecondary education institutions that operate within their 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 compact 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. During the past three years, the different 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.

 “The entities that regulate these types of programs in most states are relatively obscure,” said Scott. Jenkins, program director of the education division at the National Governors Association. “Slowly though this is going to continue gaining traction because institutions want and need this.”

Additional Resources:

  1. The National Center for Interstate Compacts
  2. The Presidents’ Forum
  3. The Commission on the Regulation of Postsecondary Distance Education
  4. Southern Regional Education Board
  5. New England Board of Higher Education
  6. Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education
  7. Midwestern Higher Education Compact