Indiana Daily Student

To ease schooling, Indiana joins web education program

Indiana is the first state in the country to officially join an initiative launched by the National Council for State Reciprocity Agreements that will help connect Hoosier students with online education in other states.

Ken Sauer, senior associate commissioner for Academic Affairs with the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, said the initiative was created to remove complexities surrounding online education.

In order for a higher education institution to deliver distance learning to students in other states, the institution has to receive approval from each of those states. But
Sauer said each state has its own regulations for approval, which makes the process complicated.

While some states have a lot of paperwork, others barely have any.
Institutions must also pay fees to enroll students from another state, and Sauer said some rates would be so high institutions would avoid enrolling students from that state.

Under the new initiative, an institution the size of IU would only pay $6,000 to enroll students from other states in online programs, instead of possibly hundreds of thousands.

The State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement launched this new initiative to create more consistency across states. The initiative will be an agreement between states in which an institution can easily enroll students from another state also involved with SARA.

Jennifer Parks, director of the Midwestern district of SARA, said there are multiple phases for states to become involved with SARA. The state must set up a portal agency that applies for membership in SARA.

The agency will then accept applications from institutions to become members.

In order for institutions to become members, they must be nationally or regionally accredited and have an adequate federal financial responsibility score.

Each state that becomes a member of SARA must implement an adequate system for students to file complaints about institutions in that state. States must also create a catastrophic response process in case an institution in their state shuts down, so affected students can be helped in completing their degrees.

Parks said this new legislation is important because it acknowledges the direction that technology, society and education are heading. She said students are no longer limited to their location in gaining an education and also have the convenience to complete an online degree during their own time.

According to the Sloan Consortium, 7.1 million higher education students were enrolled in at least one online course in 2013. Sauer said the new initiative can help gather more information about online education.

“I think there’s a real opportunity to get better data on the number of students enrolled in distance education programs,” Sauer said.

Indiana is the only official member of SARA from the Midwest, but Parks received an application from North Dakota on Wednesday. Parks said this is an integral issue for those involved with higher education to embrace.

Parks said SARA hopes to have 26 states become members by the end of 2014 and 45 members by the end of 2015.

“It’s good for students because it allows more opportunity for students to take online courses and programs if they want to,” Sauer said.

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