Should there be a “driver’s license” for online programs?

Like a driver’s license

The main solution offered by the paper comes in the form of SARA, the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement, which establishes a state-level reciprocity process with comparable national policies and standards for interstate offering of higher education distance-learning courses and programs.

The paper puts this into very recognizable terms when it explains that SARA is “the same concept that keeps us from having to obtain multiple drivers’ licenses.”

SARA is administered by the four regional higher education compacts: the Midwest­ern Higher Education Compact, the New England Board of Higher Education, the Southern Regional Education Board, and the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, and began accepting applications from states in their regions in early 2014. Once states are approved, they can begin to enroll eligible qualified institutions.

Participation in SARA is voluntary for both states and institutions, but if it were to grow larger and be hammered out over several years by representatives from postsecondary institutions, state higher education agencies, accrediting bodies and various higher education interest groups, it could make state authorization more effective, efficient and uniform in regard to establishing necessary and reasonable standards of practice and quality, notes the report.

Furthermore, participating in SARA could be less costly for states and institutions, which would in turn be less expensive for students. It is important to note that this extends not just to money, but to time as well: When states have more time to focus on the quality of institutions within their own borders, students will in turn have easier access to greater quality educational offerings thanks to the partnership between the more focused states.

Of course, there will still be issues in distance education that SARA doesn’t cover, such as the need for licenses in different states for preparatory programs (i.e. nursing, psychology and teaching). Additionally, if an institution wants to establish a campus or administrative site in another state, they will still have to go through whatever review and approval processes that state requires.

Regardless, the many benefits of SARA appear to be worthy of consideration.

For more on the requirements and ideas behind implementing SARA as a tool to establish greater national uniformity among online degree programs, read the full paper here.