State Authorization of Distance Education

Each of the 50 states has varying rules and regulations governing distance education offered by out-of-state colleges and universities. Often these rules require higher education institutions that offer distance education to residents of other states to obtain authorization or approval from the other state. Many of these regulations also apply to clinical placements in the state. The regulations are a consumer protection measure against ‘bad actors’ in the distance education industry, and were highlighted in Program Integrity Rules issued by the federal Department of Education in October 2010.

Because of the compliance burden and cost involved in registering online programs in all 50 states, a Commission on Regulation of Postsecondary Distance Education established the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA). Under SARA, states agree on uniform standards for state authorization of distance education. When a higher education institution meets the standards in its home state and that state is a member of SARA, it is authorized to offer distance education to residents of other states that are members of SARA without having to undertake burdensome and costly state-by-state registration.

California is not yet a member of SARA in part because a number of California policymakers do not believe that SARA standards offer sufficient protections for students enrolled in distance education. Thus, California higher education institutions are not yet eligible to take advantage of the SARA reciprocity agreement if they offer distance education or clinical placements in other states.

IRAP is available for consultation on state authorization matters for UC campuses, departments, and units that plan to enroll students from other states in online programs or that want to place current students in clinical settings in other states.