Virginia Joins Group Offering Online Courses Out-of-State

In a vote last week, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) decided to make it easier for out-of-state students to take online courses.

The officials voted to join the State Authorization Reciprocity Program (SARA), allowing schools within the state to more easily offer online programs by simplifying the authorization and payment process involved, writes Molly Greenberg for website In The Capital.

Currently the schools must seek authorization from each prospective student's home state. Under the new deal, students from other states can sign up for the course so long as the class is approved by that state's higher education organization.

SARA was formed in 2013, with $2.3 million in funding from the Lumina Foundation, the nation's largest organization dedicated to enrolling and graduating students in higher education, as an agreement between states to create comparable standards for higher education distance learning programs in order to make it easier for out-of-state students to take the courses they want or need.

SCHEV makes recommendations to the Governor and General Assembly concerning higher education public policy in areas such as budget planning, enrollment, technology needs, and financial aid. The council advocates for access, quality, affordability and accountability in the higher education system, by helping policymakers, administrators and other leaders to work together cooperatively.

The main mission of the SCHEV, established in 1956, is:

"To advocate and promote the development and operation of an educationally and economically sound, vigorous, progressive, and coordinated system of higher education in the Commonwealth of Virginia and to lead state-level strategic planning and policy development and implementation based on research and analysis …. The Council shall also seek to facilitate collaboration among institutions of higher education that will enhance quality and create operational efficiencies and shall work with institutions of higher education and their boards on board development."

In an effort to further the multi-state program, SCHEV is asking for public input on the plan via a survey located on their website. The council is asking for advice concerning what higher education should be, and how it can meet the needs of the public.

The program began accepting applicants in December of 2013. There are currently seven SARA-approved states, with Virginia becoming the eighth. Officials hope to have all 50 states and DC participating in this plan.

This is the second big news for the program in the last few months. In mid-May, the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) approved Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada and Washington as its first five members.

The five states combine to include 258 accredited higher education institutions. North Dakota and Indiana were the first states to invest in the program. An estimated 7 million students take at least one college course online during their university experience.

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