Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Regents support agreement among states offering online courses

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

TOPEKA — Kansas higher education officials on Tuesday expressed support for a national plan that they said would make it easier to enroll online students from other states.

Currently, institutions must navigate different requirements in each state to get authorization to offer distance education. These efforts are often costly and time consuming.

But institutions in states that join the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement, or SARA, would be able to operate in any of the states that are part of the plan. The institutions would be charged an annual fee based on their size.

During a telephone conference call meeting, the Academic Affairs Standing Committee of the Kansas Board of Regents voiced support of SARA.

And several college officials, including Sara Thomas Rosen, senior vice provost for academic affairs at Kansas University, also said they would like to see Kansas join.

"Certain states are difficult to get into," Rosen said.

Under SARA, only degree-granting institutions that have national accreditation and meet the U.S. Department of Education's minimum level of financial responsibility can join.

Several states, including Nebraska, are expected to join this year.

For Kansas to join would require legislation.

Regent Tim Emert, of Independence, expressed support for SARA but cautioned that joining a national effort would raise alarms with many in the Legislature.

"There is a whole group of people over there that will be opposed to us getting involved in a national consortium." He mentioned opposition to Common Core school standards for reading and math, which are going into effect in Kansas and dozens of other states.

Regent Robba Moran of Hays said that under SARA any institution can decide whether it wants to be part of the pact.

"If an institution doesn't want to do it, it doesn't have to," Moran said.

Supporters of SARA say it will provide greater access to online courses and provide consumer protections.