Update on State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA)
March 21, 2016
Dear Commissioner Elia and Members of the Board of Regents:
We, the undersigned, representing public and private not‐for‐profit colleges and universities across New York State, write to express our ongoing and strong support for New York joining the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA). We are appreciative of all of the work done to date by the State Education Department, Board of Regents, the New York State Legislature, and the Governor to advance this effort and urge forward momentum without delay.
In so doing, we must underscore that recent public criticism of SARA neglects to mention the critical protections it provides, including measures to make it harder for disreputable online providers to operate in New York. In fact, the intent of SARA is to support high-quality online providers like SUNY, CUNY, and New York’s independent colleges and universities.
Through participation in SARA, New York is not giving up consumer protection; it is actually advancing a more effective, multi-layered approach to consumer protections and state rights. SARA developed, in part, because it has become very difficult for states to effectively regulate and maintain the quality of online educational opportunities being made available to their residents by out-of-state providers. SARA seeks to address this issue by creating a shared responsibility for ensuring the quality of online education and highlighting existing opportunities to address bad actors.
The fact is that SARA-member states maintain the authority to enforce all of their “general purpose laws” against out-of-state entities, including those laws related to consumer protections and fraudulent activities—exactly those areas generally associated with predatory, online education companies. In fact, state attorneys general retain the ability to take action against any in- or out-of-state institution that violates consumer protection laws of their respective states.
In addition, not all institutions in a state are automatically eligible for participation in SARA. Each state must assure that participating institutions are in compliance with state rules, regulations and standards of good practice in online education, and have a transparent way to receive and address student complaints. We have pledged to support the State Education Department in this effort.
Moreover, per federal regulations, each state already has to have in place a means to resolve complaints from out-of-state students enrolled in online education provided by institutions in their state. In fact, when an institution participates in SARA, it agrees to allow its own state agency to evaluate courses and programs to ensure compliance with guidelines for online education established by the Council of Regional Accrediting Commissions and to investigate any claims that the institution does not meet those standards. In order to ensure transparency, SARA quarterly posts the number and status of complaints, for each state and institution, and failure to address ongoing institutional abuses could lead to a state being removed from SARA.
Finally, New York’s colleges and universities are proud of the high-quality, student-centered programs and courses that are provided to online learners in New York and beyond. The rigorous online instruction provided in New York is in direct contrast to what is delivered by the “bad actors” highlighted by critics. Our state’s online programs provide important access to working adults, stay-at-home parents, active military personnel and veterans, and students with disabilities. Our online courses and programs provide flexibility and increased options for traditional-age college students as well.
Without SARA, we would miss the opportunity to participate in a more transparent and collaborative consumer protection effort. At the same time, each of our New York State institutions would need to continue the daunting task of registering with each individual state, or choosing not to provide New York-based learning opportunities to citizens in particular states because the processes are too time consuming or expensive.
SARA provides an efficient and effective mechanism for regulation of online higher education across the United States while also providing a level playing field for private, not-for-profit, and public institutions to deliver education in a reasonable and responsible manner. Over the past two years, it has been our goal to have an open and transparent dialog with all interested parties, and we believe that the support we have received from the Board of Regents, the New York State Legislature, and the Governor is a testament to the importance of this initiative to New York’s students and higher education institutions.
We strongly encourage the New York State Education Department to move forward with joining SARA, and we stand ready to assist you in any way.
Laura L. Anglin James B. Milliken Nancy L. Zimpher
President Chancellor Chancellor
Commission on Independent The City University of New York The State University of New York
Colleges and Universities