|SARA Changes Way Schools Cross State Lines|
May 19, 2014/Sault Ste. Marie Evening News
By Richard Crofton
SAULT STE. MARIE — In a way to protect higher education students as consumers, a new process is being developed which states and institutions can take advantage of over the current system.
Several years ago, the federal government told institutions they had to follow state laws in states they were operating in.
For example, if a university in Michigan was advertising in Chicago, that university would need permission from Illinois and abide by that state’s laws. The same as if an institution owned a building in another state, taught an out-of-state student online or had students interning in another state.
“The rules changed periodically among the states and the costs varied,” said Lake Superior State University Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Morrie Walworth. “If we would break the rules and some state decides to sue, we could lose financial aid and other federal aid.”
Thus the birth of SARA or State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement.
“All universities have been told by accrediting agencies you have to follow the sates laws in the states you are operating in,” the provost said. “In general, if teaching online course to students residing in another state, you better check their laws to make sure you are legitimate. Our bigger issue is internships with parks and recreation and fish and wildlife. They go all over.”
Walworth said two years ago as this issue was growing, there was nobody to even contact within many states.
“Now there is a website to see contacts. You can write a letter and they will respond to you at some point. The options may include fill out this application, fill out this application and send in $1,000 for every degree program you offer, or some other variation.”
To avoid this confusion and what could potentially be a very costly situation, the voluntary program SARA was formed.
According the federal guidelines, the program was developed because guidelines within states to oversee delivery of postsecondary distance education was too varied to assure consumer protection, too cumbersome and expensive for institutions and too fragmented to support quality education.
To help handle SARA, the United States is broken up into four regions.
“If organizations will join they will coordinate and approve all the institutions that belong. Below SARA there are four regional groups. Michigan belongs to one of those groups,” Walworth said. “Michigan has to join our regional group and then join SARA, once they do then all the institutions within the state can join.”
So far two states have joined — Indiana and North Dakota.
Each institution also will be assessed a yearly fee for joining, based on student enrollment.
“Our fee will be about $4,000. That is nothing compared to the thousands we could have spent,” he said. “Central Michigan said they have spent $200,000” going through the individual process.
Walworth said that some states are being difficult with this process and others do not plan on joining SARA.
He also said LSSU has a system set up as a good faith effort for out-of-state students wanting to possibly take an online course. The students will find out if they are eligible by coming to the website and signing up. If their state is approved, they can proceed. If not, the student will receive a message that LSSU cannot educate them due to federal rules.