Distance Learning

New Hampshire Signs Up for Ed Reciprocity Program

New Hampshire has become the 18th state to sign on for a program intended to make it easier for students to take online courses from schools in other states — on the heels of West Virginia, which joined in November. The program is managed by the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (SARA).

The problem SARA solves is worth addressing. Traditionally, states have regulated higher ed activities within their borders, with varying requirements for out-of-state institutions that want to do business there. That means that colleges and universities might have to work with individual states and multiple regulatory agencies within them to provide cross-border education, a "complicated, time-consuming" and costly process, as one participant noted.

The voluntary agreement New Hampshire and the other states have approved has six criteria that each state must adhere to:

  • Acceptance of institutional accreditation by an accrediting body recognized by the United States Department of Education as "sufficient, initial evidence of academic quality"  for approving institutions for participation in SARA;
  • A willingness to consider applications from all degree-granting institutions — public, private non-profit and private for-profit — that meet specific SARA standards;
  • For private institutions, a willingness by the state to accept a minimum institutional federal financial responsibility rating;
  • A clear and complete process for institutional approval and on-going oversight, including resolution of consumer complaints;
  • Designation of a "lead agency" to act as a SARA liaison and provide a point of contact for resolution of student complaints; and
  • Assurance by the state that it will work cooperatively with other SARA states to help the initiative succeed.

SARA is managed by four regional education compacts: Midwestern Higher Education Compact, New England Board of Higher Education, Southern Regional Education Board and the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. The agreement allows institutions accredited in their own states to operate in other participating states without going through additional authorization by these compacts.

The compact was funded with $2.3 million from the Lumina Foundation in 2013 with the goal of making distance education courses more accessible to students across state lines and making it easier for states to regulate and institutions to participate in interstate distance education.

Edward MacKay of the New Hampshire Higher Education Commission said the state's college and university presidents overwhelmingly support the idea. The next step is for interested institutions to seek approval to participate. They can start applying in January.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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