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House of Representatives
Session of 2015 - 2016 Regular Session


Posted: September 10, 2015 12:20 PM
From: Representative Brad Roae
To: All House members
Subject: State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement for Distance Education (re-introduction)
In the near future, I will be re-introducing legislation authorizing the Department of Education (PDE) to enter into an interstate reciprocity agreement governing interstate offerings of postsecondary distance education courses and programs. This is a reintroduction of HB 762 from this session, which first passed the House on April 15, 2015 (193-0). As you will recall, this past June, HB 762 was amended by the Senate to include the 2015 Omnibus School Code amendment, which was subsequently vetoed by the Governor.

With almost seven million students using online technology to access postsecondary courses, distance education has become an important channel through which students can obtain a postsecondary credential. The goal of this legislation is to promote the expansion of this type of educational offering to our students, while reducing costs related to the approval of these programs for our state’s institutions of higher education.

The need for this legislation has arisen from regulations promulgated by the U.S. Department of Education in 2010, which were intended to require institution of higher educations to obtain state authorization and approval in order to offer distance education to students in a state in which they were not physically located. While this regulation was eventually vacated by federal court, many states are continuing to require colleges and universities located in other states to complete costly and time-consuming authorization procedures for offering distance education to students in their state.

In response to these issues, a new state authorization reciprocity agreement (SARA) has been developed as a voluntary agreement among member states and U.S. territories that establishes comparable national standards for interstate offering of postsecondary distance-education courses and programs. Importantly, SARA establishes a state-level reciprocity process so that colleges and universities in a SARA member state only need their home state’s authorization to offer distance education to any other SARA member state. SARA is presently overseen by a National Council (NC-SARA) and is administered by four regional education compacts, which states must join in order to participate in SARA. At this time, 47 states are members of a regional compact, and 28 states have been approved as a SARA state.

There will be no cost to the state to join SARA, as the cost will be shared among the participating colleges and universities through fees collected and placed in a restricted account. However, before Pennsylvania can join a regional compact and participate in SARA, legislation must be enacted to establish PDE’s authority to sign this agreement. It is my understanding that this legislation is supported by the State System, Penn State, the independent colleges and universities, and the community colleges.

I hope that you will join me in co-sponsoring this legislation. Thank you for your consideration.

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Introduced as HB1552