SARA, it's not just a name in the distance learning world. It's kind of a big deal. It stands for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements. Huh? It was easier when it was just a name. It basically means that if you are an institution of higher education and you belong to SARA, you can offer your distance learning in another state that also belongs to SARA.
On the surface it's a little bit of a "duh" moment because when did the Internet or other distance learning technologies ever stop at a state boundary. The Internet goes around the world after all. But, like many things in education, below the glossy surface lies a murky history.
When online learning was in its early days, it was a glorious free-for all. If you could find an online program through your dial-up connection, you could most likely apply to enroll in that program. (I was there on dial-up reviewing applications for an online program and we took anyone from anywhere that met the admission requirements.) Well, as technology evolved and more and more institutions started getting into this "online learning thing," it started to get a little complex. Phrases like "interstate commerce" and "fraud" started getting passed around. States started creating regulations to institutions who wanted to enter their state. This could be a residency requirement or a hefty fee or some onerous reporting. Naturally, these regulations varied from state to state, so what you had to do to enter one state was different from another state. In short, it made it quite difficult to get around, even now in our days of non-dial up.
Now, this is not all bad. There were institutions that were taking advantage of the lack of quality control to enroll students and provide them with a less than excellent education. The states' intentions were good - protect our consumers as they would under other forms of interstate commerce.
However, it also prevented students from accessing educational offerings that may not be offered in their home states. Thankfully, the Lumina Foundation provided funding to develop SARA. (For more information on the evolution of SARA - http://nc-sara.org/about/evolution-sara)
SARA uses the regional higher education compact structure to allow states to participate. Stritch belongs to the Midwestern Higher Education Compact (MHEC) which subsequently oversees the Midwestern State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (M-SARA). The good news is that the Midwest is the first region to have all states join M-SARA.
What does this mean to you, the student?
It means that institutions who belong to their regional SARA are subject standards, policies and procedures which ensure a higher quality level for you. It also provides you with a "higher power" to report your complaints to, after you go through an institution's complaint process. It gives you access to greater educational offerings and reduces costs that currently passed onto you as well.
Stritch submitted its application for participation in M-SARA just this week. We are excited to bring our educational experiences to a greater number of people so we can fulfill our institutional mission of transforming lives through servant leadership, learning and service. So you can see why SARA is kind of a big deal...but it's also a great name.