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West Virginia Northern Community College has been approved as an institutional participant in a nationwide initiative that makes it easier for states to regulate interstate distance education and eliminates approval costs for colleges and universities that are often passed on to students.
Announcement of Northern’s acceptance in the program was made by the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements through its executive director, Marshall A. Hill.
Dr. Vicki L. Riley, WVNCC president, said, “Being part of SARA is one more step in Northern’s aggressive plan to make it easier for students to register for and successfully complete college courses online. Our online enrollment has continued to grow, and we are in the planning stages to add more programs that can lead to earning degrees totally online.” In a first for two-year institutions in the Upper Ohio Valley, Northern already has five totally online programs.
In the acceptance letter to WVNCC, Hill said, “A great deal of work has gone into the development and implementation of the SARA initiative. We know that SARA will increase administrative efficiency and lower the costs of obtaining authorization to provide postsecondary distance education in states that join. These benefits will result in increased access as institutions like yours are able to more widely distribute academic programs and accept enrollments from students in many other states.”
It was explained that all SARA institutions are committing to several steps designed to ensure that courses and programs they offer through the SARA initiative provide high-quality opportunities that can help students reach their goals. “We are pleased our online efforts have resulted in joining this national project,” Riley added.
The SARA collaboration of states nationwide makes distance education easier and safer for students. The effort is funded by a $3 million grant from Lumina Foundation and the nationwide clearinghouse expands distance education offerings for students. More states are expected to join the agreements in this and coming years.
The SARA agreements are overseen by the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements and are being implemented by the four regional higher education interstate compacts: the Midwestern Higher Education Compact, the New England Board of Higher Education, the Southern Regional Education Board, which covers West Virginia, and the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. Once a state joins SARA, accredited degree-granting institutions in the state that offer distance education courses can seek approval to participate in SARA from their state. When approved, these institutions will be able to operate in other participating SARA states without seeking independent authorization. Participating in SARA is entirely voluntary for institutions, as it is for states.
“SARA allows states to focus on their home-state institutions, rather than on institutions from many other states,” Hill explained. “SARA can help expand educational offerings available to state residents and will significantly reduce costs for institutions that are active in online education, lessening this particular need to raise fees and thereby supporting affordability.”