Online Reciprocity Agreement Gaining Favor in More States


One of the largest nonprofit providers of online degrees, Southern New Hampshire University, has achieved its status thanks in part to getting program approval from other states and partly because of the $500,000 a year it pays to states approving the program. Now that process will be easier.

According to Holly Ramer of the Associated Press, the New England Board of Higher Education has voted to make the state the first in New England and the 18th nationally to become associated with the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA). The agreement is in place to facilitate taking online courses offered by schools in other states. The plan allows institutions of higher education which are accredited in one state to offer courses in other states without having to acquire independent authorization.

State regulations were set up to manage an institution coming into the state and building a brick and mortar location. None were set up to deal with online education, so the fact that things will become less difficult is a relief. Some states do not want to welcome the competition, but others want to generate more revenue.

"It's a wild mix of things," said SNHU President Paul LeBlanc. "The principle behind this is if you are an institution that has been through your own state's approval process and own regional accreditor's approval process, you are sort of a trusted agent and shouldn't have to go through the approval process of every other state in which you might offer programs."

Now, interested institutions need to seek approval to participate in the program. The payoff is that students can have access to affordable programs wherever their state of residence may be.
SARA is managed by the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements ans is funded through a $3 million grant from Lumina Foundation and $200,000 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Later, the initiative will be paid for by fees paid by the participating institutions.

New Mexico institutions want the Legislative Finance Committee to approve SARA, writes Susan McKinsey for Inside University of New Mexico. Kansas schools also asked for and received legislation to support SARA, administered by the Midwest Higher Education Compact.

School leaders are in agreement with the automatic "stamp of approval" for out-of-state programs, but also are concerned that this will open a floodgate of online operations. The only exception is teacher-training programs which will continue to be required to meet the Kansas Department of Education Standards, reports John Richard Schrock of The High Plains Leader and Southwest Daily Times.

12 30, 2014
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