Interest in post-secondary online learning reciprocity growing

Some of our past blog posts have explored the current shortcomings and potential benefits of reciprocity between states in teacher certification and sharing online courses. Often our views tend towards skepticism. Regarding teacher certification our research suggests that the current benefits of reciprocity are often overestimated, and we have expressed uncertainty about whether proposals from our friends at Digital Learning Now regarding course choice operating across state lines have a high likelihood of success. (Which isn’t to say that proposals suggesting course sharing or reciprocity across states are not good ideas.) Recent apparent advances in post-secondary reciprocity provide hope that perhaps similar issues are being addressed within higher education. I stress that these are “apparent” advances because unless one delves deeper under the hood than I’m able to do, it’s hard to tell if the policy changes will have an impact on the ground. Still, it’s early and these efforts hold promise.

The National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA) calls itself a “voluntary, regional approach to oversight of distance education.” The why and how include:

"Higher Education needs a new way for states to oversee the delivery of postsecondary distance education.

The current process is too varied among the states to assure consistent consumer protection, too cumbersome and expensive for institutions that seek to provide education across state borders, and too fragmented to support our country’s architecture for quality assurance in higher education — the quality assurance “triad” of accrediting agencies, the federal government, and the states.

A new, voluntary process of state oversight of distance education has been created to redress these problems. The State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement is a voluntary agreement among its member states and U.S. 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."

When New Mexico recently joined NC-SARA, the Albuquerque Journal described the benefits for the state’s educational institutions and students. “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.”

Could a similar approach work in K-12 education? Perhaps, but post-secondary education has a longer history of working across state lines than does K-12, and SARA is administered by four existing regional education compacts (Midwestern Higher Education Compact, New England Board of Higher Education, Southern Regional Education Board (SREB), and the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education). Of these, SREB has been significantly involved in K-12 education, but the others less so.

Still, it’s worth watching what happens with SARA and whether its approach and potential success can be replicated at the K-12 level.