Update on State Authorization Reciprocity

With distance education being a popular way that adults with significant prior college credit but no degree gain access to college courses, keeping abreast of developments surrounding state authorization requirements are important to those seeking to serve this population.

A proposed framework has now been developed to provide reciprocity between states for authorization of distance education programs. More details on the proposal are included in the blog post below from ACCN’s partner organization WCET. The post summarizes a recent Lumina Foundation-sponsored meeting at which participants from 47 states and other key stakeholders discussed recommendations by the Commission on the Regulation on Postsecondary Distance Education.

The proposed framework would place the onus on an institution’s home state to authorize its operation, but this authorization would be accepted by all other states participating in the arrangement, reducing the need for institutions to apply separately in each state that it has students.

This arrangement could add certainty for institutions offering distance education and benefit those adults seeking to complete a degree through distance education. For more details, read on...

Highlights from the National Meeting on State Authorization Reciprocity

by Russ Poulin, WCET

A national meeting on next steps in state reciprocity was held in Indianapolis on April 16 and 17. The purpose of the event was to serve as an initial introduction to representatives from each state about next steps in reciprocity. The session focused on the report: Advancing Access through Regulatory Reform: Findings, Principles, and Recommendations for the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA) that was recently released by the Commission on the Regulation on Postsecondary Distance Education. The Commission, which is a committee formed by APLU (the land-grant universities) and the State Higher Education Executive Officers, built upon the work of previous efforts of the Presidents’ Forum/Council of State Governments and the regional higher education compacts. You can see a short history of state authorization and the reciprocity efforts on our web page.

Sponsored by Lumina Foundation, the meeting attendees included representatives from 47 states. Delaware, Hawaii, and New York were not represented. While they did not send participants, we know that there was interest in the first two of those states in participating. Others in attendance to this invitational event included those who had involvement in shaping the reciprocity language.

Opening Remarks and Support

The report is meant to be a framework for reciprocity with additional provisions to be detailed in the final SARA wording. The meeting started with several introductory sessions presenting the principles outlined in the report. A letter was read from Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education, lending her support to reciprocity. Hal Plotkin of the U.S. Department of Education had the most memorable metaphor of the night, which you can ask me about later. While the Department of Education cannot formally endorse the work, he brought a two-word message from the Secretary Arne Duncan and Undersecretary Martha Kanter: “thank you.”

Some Questions that Arose

If they can receive foundation support to begin the effort, the regional higher education compacts (Midwestern Higher Education Compact, New England Board of Higher Education, Southern Regional Education Board, and Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education) will be charged with jointly implementing the agreement in as seamless a way as possible. Regional sessions were held to cover additional fine points of reciprocity and to gather comments and questions from participants. There were many items on which there were agreement and many questions were raised. David Longanecker, president of WICHE, highlighted a few in a final plenary session:

  • Accreditation. There is still some angst about the efficacy of depending on accreditation for quality assurance. David sees reciprocity as a way to give us all more license to work with the accrediting community. Working together, we should be able to have more evidence to take to the accrediting agencies about any concerns.
  • Fees. The report was relatively silent on fees. The current plan for fees includes

State fees to institutions. The state might decide to charge an institution for the process of authorizing it to participate in SARA. States raised questions about their own ability to charge institutions (this might be currently prohibited in some states) and the reorganization of duties required.

Institutional fees to join SARA. Institutions participating in SARA will be charged a yearly fee on a sliding scale based on overall institutional FTE: $2,000 for those less than 2,500, $4,000 for those 2,501 – 10,000, and $6,000 for those more than 10,000 FTE. Due to the current high variance in how “distance education” enrollments are counted, overall institutional FTE is the current proposed metric.

State fees to join SARA. States in a regional compact will not be charged. For those states and territories not in a compact (District of Columbia, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Puerto Rico), they would be charged $50,000 to affiliate with a regional compact for this one purpose. (UPDATED: 04/18/13 – Delaware is part of SREB, while Pennsylvania is not in a regional compact)

  • Legislative and Regulatory Language. States will need assistance with the proper language. While the regional compacts can’t lobby, they plan to provide some help in crafting language and in connecting states to learn from each other both about legislative language and in handling the fees issue raised earlier.
  • Determination of Home State. There are several examples of complex relationships and the details on those outliers needs to be considered. It is clear that institutional shopping for a state will not be tolerated.
  • Professional Accreditation. There was a proposal to have more restrictions on education offered in fields of study in which licensure or other professional accreditation is required in a state.
  • Metrics for Holding a State Accountable. Clear metrics will need to be developed as to what a state reports.
  • The Physical Presence Limit of 25% of Course Instruction. More justification, details, and metrics were requested.

Again, these are all questions. Some reflect items on which this is considerable work, but either additional details, subtle nuances, or more justification is needed. A few of the items will need much more work.

Next Steps

Recordings of the meeting will be made available in the next few weeks. When I receive the links, I will post them to the blog. Watch for additional follow-up information from the Presidents’ Forum and the Commission. The regional compacts are very optimistic about receiving grant support to move forward on this work. Once they do, they will hire staff and hold regional meetings to discuss these issues.

Finally, A Note about Tone

While much of the meeting was very positive, there was significant regulator bashing during the meeting.

Some of those with regulatory roles let me know of their displeasure. While there are regulations that are real head-scratchers, there is real purpose behind many of these regulations. We should not paint everyone charged with overseeing authorization in the states with the same brush. They are charged with upholding their laws. They are charged with protecting students.

Reciprocity is asking them to make significant changes in their work, to go out on a limb and trust others, and to accept the risk of those changes. Since they will face much of the impact, the least the rest of us can do is respect them and listen to them.


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