Frequently Asked Questions
Q. This is all new to me, where do I begin?
A. First, become familiar with what state authorization is. This can be done a number of ways, including reading articles, finding resources on websites like WCET, SHEEO, etc. The primary source of information needs to come from reading state regulations beginning with the definitions. This will inform what types of institutions are regulated and what activities trigger the need for authorization. Also, read the section on exemptions to see if your institution is eligible for one. From there, read through the regulations, jot down questions and contact the state regulator for clarification or guidance. Most state regulators prefer email inquiries. Other steps to take can include attending seminars or webinars on the topic of state authorization, or seeking professional guidance from an experienced attorney or consultant.
Check to see if the state where your institution is located is a member of SARA. If so, you will need to apply to your state portal agency to become a participant in the Agreement. Once you are accepted as a participant, your institution is considered authorized in all the other SARA member states. HOWEVER, you still need to pay attention to the state authorization regulations in the non-SARA states and all institutions still need to address the professional licensure requirements in all 50 states and DC because SARA does not cover those requirements.
Q. I thought the courts set aside the state authorization portion of the U.S. Department of Education's Program Integrity Rules, so why should I be concerned about this?
A. Yes, the state authorization portion of the Program Integrity Rules was set aside by a federal court based on procedure. However, that only affects the federal regulations. Each state has its own regulations regarding authorization to operate and institutions need to be in compliance with those now. Enforcement of these state regulations is not dependent on what the U.S. Department of Education decides to do.
Q. I didn’t know that state authorization pertains to activities related to physical campus programs as well as distance education programs. Can you explain?
A. There are some states that regulate more than distance education activities. For example, a number of states include students doing an internship or other field experience as a trigger for needing authorization. This may pertain to programs taught on campus in the institution’s home state but students go to another state to do the field experience. Two other activities related to campus-based programs are on-the-ground recruiting and targeted advertising (direct mail, emails, local TV, radio, newspaper, etc.).
Q. States haven’t enforced their regulations in the past, so what would happen if my institution were found to be out of compliance in a particular state?
A. Historically, states have not diligently enforced their state authorization regulations and there are several reasons for this. However, in the past few years that has changed. A number of states have become very proactive in pursuing institutions that appear to be out of compliance with regulations. Typically enforcement begins with a cease and desist letter from the state to the institution, but can go as far as significant fines, refunds to students, etc. The enforcement settlements are seldom known to the public because they are agreed upon with confidentiality.
Q. Isn’t state authorization just another way for states to accumulate more revenue?
A. That is a common question, although given the level of fees charged for authorization in some states it would be easy to make that assumption. In some states, the revenue generated from fees is the primary means of supporting the activities and responsibilities of the regulating agency. Each state has the authority to determine what the fees are.