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SARA Streamlines Education for Out-of-State Students

Photo of student working on her computer

NC State’s Online and Distance Education students span from coast to coast, from Washington to Maryland. Out-of-state students are able to easily enroll in NC State’s programs due to the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA).

SARA is a “voluntary agreement among its member states and U.S. territories that established comparable national standards for interstate offering of postsecondary distance education courses and programs.” The agreement will make it easier for students to take courses in other states and give them confidence that these programs are properly authorized and legitimate.   

North Carolina is part of the Southern Regional Education Board, one of the four regional compacts administering SARA in their respective states. The National Council of State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA) oversees SARA to ensure a set of uniform standards are in place throughout each region.

SARA was created to address many problems associated with providing distance education across state lines. According to Associate Vice Provost for Online and Distance Education Rebecca Swanson, the process to become authorized in each state was tedious and expensive. It involved research into the compliance standards for each individual state with differing fees and expectations. Some of these barriers made it almost impossible to be compliant in every state.

“As a land-grant university, we were very focused on making Online and Distance Education opportunities for out-of-state students available; however, there were unanticipated authorization challenges that we had to address,” said Swanson. She noted one of the benefits of SARA is to have a streamlined and consistent policy to follow.

NC State was approved in October 2016 to participate in SARA-North Carolina as one of the first few institutions in the state to join and was subsequently approved at the national level in November 2016. There are now more than 40 SARA-approved institutions in North Carolina.

As an approved NC-SARA institution, NC State is able to offer Online and Distance Education courses to students in every state and U.S. territory. Though California, Florida and Massachusetts are not members of SARA, NC State is able to offer online education in these states, either by means of authorization or exemption from authorization.

“SARA opens avenues for students in other states where previously we may have needed to deny students admission to our courses or programs,” said Director of Online and Distance Education Administrative Services Melissa Williford. The counseling programs offered through the College of Education were one that Swanson noted would particularly benefit from SARA because of the practicums required.

“The benefit of accepting everyone creates a well-rounded experience for online students,” said Swanson. It adds diversity to the online and virtual experience.

SARA benefits both student and faculty alike. “Online program leaders are empowered by membership in SARA to offer the full equivalent of their campus programs, including internships and practicums,” said Swanson.

In addition, NC-SARA advocates for consumer protection by creating a consistent process to allow students to express concerns and complaints that will be handled by the institution the student is enrolled in or the state where the institution is located. Previously, complaints were managed by the student’s home state.

Swanson and Williford agree that SARA has been incredibly beneficial for NC State Online and Distance Education. The reciprocity agreement allows NC State to use resources previously needed for state authorization purposes to be better used towards new program development.

“It is important to alert prospective students that the quality of education they will receive from SARA-approved institutions is guaranteed because of the standards they must abide by,” said Swanson.  

As of November 2017, Online and Distance Education has successfully renewed for another year of institutional participation in the SARA initiative. NC State is committed to designing courses and programs that provide high-quality learning opportunities for students to reach their goals.

Learn more about SARA on the Online and Distance Education series of webpages.