In May 2014, Alaska was approved by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) to become a member of the WICHE State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (W-SARA). The Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education (ACPE) has been designated as the state portal, or lead, agency for all SARA-related matters.
What is SARA?
SARA is a voluntary agreement among member states, districts and territories that establishes comparable nationwide standards for interstate offering of postsecondary distance education courses and programs. SARA does not supersede state laws governing institutions with a physical presence in the state.
Prior to SARA, accredited postsecondary institutions were required to obtain approval to deliver distance education in every state in which online degree or certificate programs were offered. Under SARA, colleges or universities in a SARA state only need authorization from the state where the main/central campus or central administrative unit resides – known as the "home state" – to offer distance education to residents of any other SARA member state.
The National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA) oversees SARA agreements. Four regional higher education interstate compacts are responsible for implementing the agreements in their member states. Alaska is a member of the WICHE compact.
Each SARA member state is required to designate a portal agency responsible for overseeing SARA-related activities in that state. As Alaska's designated portal agency, ACPE is responsible for:
- determining if an Alaska postsecondary institution is eligible for SARA participation;
- ensuring participating Alaska institutions are in compliance with SARA rules and policies;
- serving as the point of contact for other SARA member states and their agencies; and
- investigating and resolving complaints against an Alaska SARA-participating institutions that are not addressed by the institution's grievance or complaints policy.
SARA and Alaska Institutions
Accredited, degree-granting institutions in Alaska that offer distance education courses can seek approval from ACPE to participate in SARA. If approved, these institutions will be able to deliver distance education to students in any other SARA member state without needing to seek independent authorization from those states.
Accredited postsecondary Alaska institutions may apply for SARA participation by completing the Application and Approval Form for Institution Participation in SARA & the Addendum to Institutional Participation in SARA Form.
The following Alaska institutions have been approved to participate in SARA:
- Alaska Pacific University
- University of Alaska Anchorage
- University of Alaska Fairbanks
- University of Alaska Southeast
A list of SARA-participating institutions in other SARA member states can be found on the NC-SARA website.
Because SARA is voluntary, institutions that elect not to participate are still required to go through the authorization process in state where they wish to offer distance-delivered postsecondary education.
SARA and Students
The standardized process requires that a student enrolled in a distance education program at a SARA-participating institution must first seek resolution of a complaint through the institution's published grievance or complaints process. Unresolved complaints may be brought to ACPE for review. If a person bringing a complaint is not satisfied with the outcome of the institutional process for handling complaints, the complaint (except for complaints about grades or student conduct violations) may be appealed, within two years of the incident about which the complaint is made, to the SARA Portal Entity in the home state of the institution against which the complaint has been lodged. For more information, see Student Complaints.