Utah has received formal approval to join a 43-state partnership that will help students more efficiently access online courses and programs. As online degree programs have rapidly grown in recent years, attracting students from different states, securing the authorization from other states for those students to enroll has become increasingly costly and administratively burdensome. Previously, colleges and universities would have to individually seek approval to offer programs in each state they offered services.
In August 2013, the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA) was established by State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO), with support of the Lumina Foundation, to create voluntary process of state oversight of distance education. NC-SARA allows states to enter a consortial agreement on behalf of its colleges and universities who want to offer online programs across state lines.
USHE institutions alone offer over 80 certificate and degree programs entirely online reaching students in all 50 states. USHE has been working closely with the Utah Department of Commerce, the agency that oversees non-USHE institutions, to ensure continued coordination for all eligible higher education institutions to participate in this agreement. In addition, the NC-SARA agreement makes online programs from institutions based outside of the state more accessible for Utah students. Overall, this agreement provides increased access to a wide range of programs and opportunities for Utah college students.
State authorization is different from institutional or programmatic accreditation, or approval from professional licensing boards, it only deals with voluntary standards institutions agree to maintain as they participate in the NC-SARA program.
The State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement model enables more efficient provision of distance education to a broader market, reduces the number of other-state regulations institutions would otherwise be required to monitor and track, and should ultimately to better resolution of complaints from students as well as enhance the overall quality of distance education.