The National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements is saving colleges millions of dollars annually, a new report from the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems estimated.

NC-SARA is a membership organization that sets national shared standards for postsecondary distance education courses and programs that are offered across state lines.

Institutions that are NC-SARA members do not have to undergo separate authorization processes in every state where they wish to operate — a perk that the organization has long claimed saves institutions money and saves staff time, easing the administrative burden of offering classes online.

The NCHEMS report, published yesterday, quantifies those savings for the first time. The organization gathered survey responses from a total of 171 institutions.

For initial authorization to operate across state lines, SARA-participating institutions responding to the survey paid between $3,351 and $11,221. The figure for institutions that do not participate in SARA was much higher, at $219,000 on average, the report estimates.

To renew their authorizations, SARA-participating institutions pay between $3,258 and $11,033 annually, the report found. Institutions that do not participate in SARA pay $75,000 annually. The estimated cost savings for initial authorizations across all SARA-participating institutions annually is $402 million, and cost savings for renewals are estimated at $133 million annually.

By meeting the shared standards set by NC-SARA, more than 2,200 member institutions may operate in almost every U.S. state without having to undertake separate state-level approval processes.

Currently, California is the only state that does not participate in the NC-SARA agreement as a member state. Consumer protection advocates based in California argue that NC-SARA’s requirements are too lax to adequately protect students studying at potentially predatory online institutions and say the state is better off with its own state authorization process.



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