By YUEHAN LIU
Capital News Service
LANSING—Michigan has joined a consortium of other states designed to improve online education and increase access while saving money for colleges and universities.
According to the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, before gaining acceptance into the reciprocity agreement, Michigan was one of several states that did not regulate distance education providers. Those not located in Michigan were not required to register or meet guidelines to offer online education courses to Michigan residents.
The state had received more than 1,500 inquiries from out-of-state institutions requesting approval or exemption to offer distance education to its residents.
The structures of online class varies. For example, Grand Valley State University has only hybrid courses, a blend of online and in-class education, so out-of-state students cannot attend.
Earlier this year, seeking the improvement of online education programs, Michigan joined the new national reciprocity agreement.
The Midwestern State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (M-SARA) will help higher education institutions that already offer online courses, as well as those that want to do so, said director Jennifer Parks.
Joining the consortium has a lot of benefits to both students and institutions. For the 2014-2015 year, M-SARA had a total of $422,389, funding provided by Lumina Foundation, Gates Foundation and institutional fees.
The state in which the institution is physically located authorizes the institution to provide distance education programs to residents of other SARA states with little or no additional regulation and at no additional costs.
Jeannie Vogel, from the communications office of the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, said that joining the agreement would help colleges and universities because it “reduces a rapidly growing institutional cost that is in one way or another passed along to students.
“Schools previously needed to apply for approval in all states to provide distance education, many of which charged fees,” she said. “Requirements f varied widely. Under SARA (reciprocity) schools apply to the home state only and thus are approved in other member states. Approval criteria is standardized.”
Parks said every U.S. institution that wants to offer online education faces “all kinds of rules and other barriers” that create a difficult, expensive and complex process.
“So we simplify and make it one set of rules,” Parks said of the agreement that Michigan joined.
Parks said some people worry about too much oversight for participating institutions.
The organization’s goal is to make online education easier and to make sure students get access to the programs that meet their needs, she said.
Other states that have already joined the M-SARA are Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
By YUEHAN LIU