In the realm of discussions regarding offering online courses, no discussion has been more painful than the state authorization conversation.  To your own full-time students, no one could really keep you from teaching an accredited and authorized course via any delivery technique you chose.  But, what happens when the students were not traditionally yours?  Were you poaching those students from their previous (or current) institution?  What if you picked up students in an online course that were in a neighboring state or a state that wasn’t neighboring at all?

State Authorization

By legal decision (and sometime indecision), institutions in state A could be penalized for enrolling students from state B without seeking proper authority to do so from state B.  In effect, one institution offering a course to a student in another state constituted a presence.  To prevent such nefarious poaching, each state was enabled by the aforementioned decision to impose its own restrictions on how other institutions were authorized to have a presence within it OR to impose penalties upon violating institutions.

My friends who are athletics recruiters or admissions recruiters are familiar with rules of these types.  These rules ensure that states do not loose an incredibly powerful component of their economies:  higher education.  But, this implies that someone, like LaGrange College in Georgia, would have to seek candidacy from 49 other states to ensure compliance with each and every state policies.  Most states not only required a portfolio of documentation but many also required annual fees for authorization.  By Georgia state law, in-state degree-granting institutions in good standing were permitted to offer online courses to any student living with its borders.

Regional Reciprocity

Some states are indifferent to out-of-state institutions enrolling their students.  However, most were protective of the value of their student population.  To ease financial and administrative burdens from the protective states, many schools entered reciprocity agreements.  These pacts were typically housed with some agency already focused on education.  The central agency served as a trusted clearinghouse to accept courses and programs as being eligible and eventually legitimately offered in other states.

For us, in the state of Georgia, most of our students who take online courses out of state are our own students but are from Florida and Alabama.  They are residing across state borders and we would have to (and did!) register with those states.

However, through our contacts at the GA Independent Colleges Association (GICA), we were introduced to Mary Larson at the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB).  She helped us to become partner members of the SREB’s Electronic Campus Regional Reciprocity Act (SECRRA).  Eventually, this brought us into strategic partnership with all of the traditional southeastern states and some north of the traditional south.

Adding our institution to additional pacts was time prohibitive (very working on our end for these policies) and so we opted into a policy of proactively watching enrollments and beginning the enrollment processes for each non-SECRRA state before courses started.

The State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA)

NC-SARA (the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements) was a group completed to work on SARA (State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement), the greatest of all reciprocity agreements.  This policy would permit all member institutions (over 500 now) to seamlessly offer courses to students in all member states.  (You can read about its history.)  Indiana was the first state to sign on and others followed (including Alaska, sensibly).

Earlier this year, the state of Georgia engaged the process of becoming an NC-SARA member state.  By late October, Georgia was one of five SREB states that were approved to join SARA.  The Georgia Non-Public Postsecondary Education Commission (GNPEC), had hoped to make an application process available to all Georgia institutions by December 1st but opted to delay due to changes coming through the process for an SREB institution to become a SARA institution.  Instead, they wisely (and thankfully) thought to postpone process until all changes had calmed.

GA-SARA and Georgia's enrollment in NC-SARA.

From the map (above and found online), it’s clear to see the SARA opportunity presents a clear choice:  we have to do it.  Most of the SREB states are included.

GA-SARA

Process

Georgia becoming a member state permitted us to take part of the rewards of the agreement.  The application process is finally here.  A direct link can be found on the GPNEC GA-SARA site.

Here are the components as delivered to us via the GICA:

  1. Fill out this SARA application form.
  2. There is a supplemental form for all GA institutions to be intermingled with the SARA application.
  3. Complete the memorandum of understanding.
  4. We must “Report Financial Responsibility Index Score from the U. S. Department of Education. Special instructions for institutions with a reported score between 1.0 and 1.49 are found on the Supplemental Sheet, as well as Bonding Requirements.”
  5. Fees must be paid to “Georgia Nonpublic Postsecondary Education Commision” noted “For GA-SARA Fees”.  Payment is accepted by check only.
  6. Although a digital submission is possible, a physically mailed-in submission (form, supplemental form, dues, and memorandum of understanding) is required.  The address follows:

    Georgia Nonpublic Postsecondary Education Commission
    Attention: GA-SARA Coordinator
    2082 East Exchange Place
    Suite 220
    Tucker, Georgia 30084

To add another layer of depth to the process, there are also dues to NC-SARA which will be transmitted before acceptance.

Conclusion

I plan to detail all the components that have to be demonstrated for acceptance into the agreement and may also offer up the submission that LaGrange College uses.

If you have any questions about what it is this process entails, please ask.  Also, LaGrange College will be going through this process and if you opt to leave any pointers, I’ll be grateful.

GA-SARA
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