ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The ability of New Mexico’s public and private colleges and universities to offer online programs beyond the state borders just increased considerably and includes target states from coast to coast.
In addition, New Mexico students who take distance education courses from institutions in those other states can now rest assured that the programs meet high, uniform standards.
The state Higher Education Department announced this week that the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education – of which New Mexico is one of 16 members – unanimously approved New Mexico for membership in the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement.
“This is exciting news for New Mexico’s colleges and universities,” said HED Secretary Barbara Damron. “This approval will help more of our institutions to offer more online and distance learning opportunities around the country, and will help further grow New Mexico’s reputation for excellence in higher education.”
SARA membership will result in more New Mexico college and university offerings in other states, which in turn are expected to enhance both the reach and profile of the state’s higher education institutions, Damron said.
SARA is a relatively new interstate instrument, launched in January of last year, that establishes comparable national standards for postsecondary distance education courses and programs across state lines. Membership is voluntary. It is intended to make it easier for students to take online courses offered by higher education institutions in other states.
SARA is funded by the Lumina Foundation during its startup phase and by user fees from participating institutions thereafter. SARA is overseen by a National Council and administered by four regional education compacts.
WICHE is a consortium of 15 western and Pacific Ocean states and the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands working to expand educational access and excellence for members.
Gov. Susana Martinez recently signed into law the Interstate Distance Education Act, sponsored by state Sen. John Sapien, D-Corrales, enabling New Mexico to apply for SARA membership. The legislation passed both houses unanimously and was supported by public and private colleges throughout the state.
Membership in SARA could save New Mexico’s colleges and universities significant amounts of money.
Without SARA, every institution seeking to offer online education in another state had to file a separate authorization in each state and pay those states an authorization fee. Some institutions reported the state-by-state process could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
By participating through SARA, institutions apply through HED and pay relatively meager annual fees, ranging from $2,000 to $6,000 annually, depending on the school’s enrollment.
Once an application and fee has been accepted by HED, the institution can offer online distance learning courses in the 22 other SARA states – a number which is expected to continue growing.
Currently, SARA includes all but four WICHE members – California, the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, Hawaii and Utah. In addition to the WICHE member states, SARA includes Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri, Minnesota, Kansas, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Ohio, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia.