On December 7, 2016 West Chester University (WCU) became a participant in the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA). If you are an out-of-state online student, this is most likely very good news for you, as SARA allows WCU to offer online programs to students in 48 different states/districts.
A Little Background
Back in 2010, the United States Department of Education tried to pass a regulation that would require institutions to be authorized to operate in any state that students resided, in order to offer federal financial aid. The regulation was canned by a federal court ruling in 2011. Although the federal regulation is unenforceable, institutions must still adhere to state regulations.
Each state has its own set of regulations, and not all states regulate the same activities. Common activities that are regulated include:
- Advertising and recruiting that is targeted to residents outside of the institution’s home state.
- Internships, Clinical Placements, and Field Experience taking place outside of the institution’s home state.
- Offering online programs to residents outside of the institution’s home state.
- Faculty, or staff, working for the university outside of the institution’s home state.
Trying to track regulations state-by-state created a TON of work for institutions. With that in mind, plus the burden of cost associated with obtaining state authorizations, it was clear that a better solution was needed. This is how SARA was born.
What exactly IS SARA?
SARA is an agreement among member states, districts and territories which establishes a uniform set of guidelines and regulations to adhere to. It is intended to make it easier for students to take online courses offered by out-of-state institutions, and it is one-hundred percent voluntary for states AND institutions to join SARA.
The map below shows WCU’s status with State Authorization. The green states are SARA states, which means that WCU can conduct activities in the state so long as they are within SARA regulations. The yellow states are not yet part of SARA, however WCU is currently exempted from obtaining authorization in those states. The red territory is not yet part of SARA, and WCU has not sought out authorization to conduct activities there.
What is, and is not, covered by SARA?
Any activity conducted in a SARA state that DOES NOT trigger a physical presence is covered by SARA. SARA’s Physical Presence Standard can be found here. The most important things to know are that WCU can offer online programs to out-of-state students, advertise to out-of-state students, operate limited field experiences, and have faculty/academic personnel residing in SARA States.
While SARA does alleviate a lot of the work that goes into tracking state authorizations, it does not cover programs that lead to a professional license. We state on our website that if you are considering an academic program that leads to a professional license in your state, you should first seek guidance from the appropriate licensing agency in your home state BEFORE beginning the academic program located outside of your state.