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AICUP Message to Friends of Independent Higher Education
 
May 23, 2016
 
Senate Passes SARA Bill With Amendment

On Wednesday, May 18, 2016, the Senate of Pennsylvania passed HB 1552, sponsored by Rep. Brad Roae (R-Crawford).This bill provides the Secretary of Education with the authority and duty to enter into and administer membership in a regional compact for the purpose of joining an interstate reciprocity agreement for the provision of postsecondary distance education.
 
The State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA) is an agreement among member states, districts and territories that establishes comparable national standards for interstate offering of postsecondary distance education courses and programs. It is intended to make it easier for students to take online courses offered by postsecondary institutions based in another state. SARA is overseen by a national council and administered by four regional education compacts.  The PDE may charge administrative fees to higher education institutions that choose to participate in the agreement, not to exceed the amount necessary to pay the administrative costs of the agreement.  The Department may also promulgate regulations to implement this program.  Participation in the program is voluntary.  

Passage of the state authorization interstate reciprocity agreement (SARA) is critical in order for the Commonwealth to participate in distance education for out-of-state students.  Higher education is a rapidly changing area, and distance education is a major part of that change.  Without SARA, a college or university that enrolls a student from another state must meet that state’s Education Department authorization procedure.  This step would be avoided if Pennsylvania belongs to an interstate consortium, and the college signs on to the state authorization reciprocity agreement.  Once Pennsylvania joins the compact and signs on to the agreement, the Pennsylvania Department of Education would assure other states in the agreement that our colleges meet our standards established by statute and code.
 
The members of SARA are states, not institutions or students. Therefore a state “joins” or becomes a “member” of SARA while a college or university “operates under” or “participates in” SARA. States join SARA through their respective regional compact.  While not every state is a member of SARA, over 30 states have now joined.  No Pennsylvania college or university would be compelled to participate in the agreement once established.  If colleges do participate, they would have to meet additional requirements established by the National Council of SARA. 
 
On final consideration in the Senate, the bill was amended to include language to implement the payment to school districts for the 2015-16 budget.  The amendment also added $15.0 million that was appropriated in the bill for supplemental payments to certain school districts defined in the bill.  This bill now faces consideration in the House. The House could further amend the bill or fail to concur with it, resulting in establishment of a conference committee, or could delay action by keeping the bill on the calendar or in committee.
 
Did you know?  HB 1552 as amended is available for review.