What is State Authorization?
If an institution wishes to offer educational opportunities outside of its own state or to students in other states, the U.S. Department of Education requires that the institution comply with any applicable state approval or licensure requirements. This process is known as state authorization.
Distance learning activities such as enrolling students residing in other U.S. states in online or video courses, allowing students to complete experiential learning placements (internships, clinicals, etc.) in other U.S. states, or offering students short courses in other U.S. states are all activities that require state authorization.
If an institution fails to comply with applicable authorization requirements, it may lose the ability to participate in federal financial aid programs.
What is SARA?
The State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA) is a voluntary agreement among the 49 SARA member states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico to permit certain types of educational activities without requiring requiring institutions to seek state-by-state authorization.
TCU was approved by the State of Texas to participate in SARA on March 10, 2016.
As a SARA participant, TCU may engage in the following activities:
- Enroll online students from SARA member states.
- Allow current TCU students to complete experiential learning placements in SARA member states; not all programs allow for opportunities in every SARA member state.
- Permit current TCU students to engage in independent research or field study in SARA member states.
- Arrange TCU-sponsored field trips in SARA member states.
- Offer short courses in SARA member states, subject to the SARA parameters for short courses.
SARA establishes comparable national standards for interstate offerings of postsecondary distance-education courses and programs. In particular, SARA has a specific set of best practices in distance education. Included are requirements for online faculty to receive training in pedagogy and technology; faculty-student interaction, student-student interaction, and student-content interaction; and ongoing course and program evaluation. These best practices are in addition to the distance education guidelines from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, TCU’s accreditor.
SARA is intended to make it easier for students to take online courses offered by postsecondary institutions based in another state, thereby increasing educational opportunity and access. It protects students in other states by providing a process by which out-of-state distance learning students can have their complaints about substantive programmatic or institutional issues addressed.
As a SARA participant, TCU is now authorized to offer its excellent online programs to a larger pool of potential students and current TCU students can take advantage of experiential learning opportunities in a larger number of locations.
Limitations to SARA
SARA only applies when an institution follows a specific set of rules regarding its physical presence in the state; only select distance learning activities and experiential learning placements are covered by SARA. Chairs, Program Directors, and instructors teaching distance learning courses should review the online teaching and experiential field placement information as well as the state authorization map to verify that learning activities meet SARA provisions.
SARA has no effect on state licensing or certification requirements. SARA does not provide automatic permission for experiential learning placements in licensed professions – these often require additional approval from the applicable state board. Therefore, not all programs will offer experiential learning placements in every SARA member state.