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South Carolina State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA)
What is SARA?
SARA is a voluntary, interstate reciprocity agreement that establishes comparable standards for interstate offering of postsecondary distance education. Member states recognize each other’s participating institutions as eligible to enroll students in distance education programs. Participating institutions seek authorization from their home state rather than multiple states. Institutional participation is voluntary and limited to accredited degree-granting institutions. For more information about SARA, and for the most current listing of participating states and institutions, please visit nc-sara.org.
SC Participation in SARA
On Monday, March 14, Governor Nikki Haley signed into law H. 4639 (Statutory Authority: 1976 Code Section 59-103-17) allowing South Carolina to join SARA. On June 9, 2016, South Carolina was approved through the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) to join as a member state in the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA) with an implementation date of July 1, 2016. The South Carolina Commission on Higher Education (CHE) has been designated as the state portal agency for SARA, to coordinate SARA activities for South Carolina.
How does SARA work?
The structure of SARA is based on a model established collaboratively among officials from the four U.S. regional education compacts, state authorization agencies, and institutions. The National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA) facilitates approvals through the regional education compacts. The regional education compacts (SREB for South Carolina) approve state membership which requires application by an identified state entity. CHE as the state’s SARA portal agency approves institution participation in SARA. Institutions then report annually to the state portal agency to maintain participation.
Steps for Institutional approval to participate in SARA
(1) CHE notifies SC institutions that the state is a member of SARA.
(2) The institution applies to CHE for participation in SARA. (Institutions must submit to CHE the Application and Approval form for Institutional Participation in SARA and its related attachments, signed MOU, and fee to CHE for SC-SARA).
(3) CHE reviews the application, and if approved, notifies NC-SARA (the Commission anticipates its application review period to be between 30-45 business days). A payment link is sent to the institution for the NC-SARA fee.
(4) The institution accesses the link and sends payment to NC-SARA.
(5) NC-SARA confirms payment, sends welcome materials to the institution and lists institution on NC-SARA website.
(6) Institution must renew annually to maintain participation status.
What are the requirements for a South Carolina institution to join SARA?
- Have its principal campus or central administrative unit domiciled in South Carolina;
- Comply with the Inter-regional Guidelines for the Evaluation of Distance Education, released by the Council of Regional Accrediting Commissions (C-RAC);
- Complete the NC-SARA Application and Approval form for Institutional Participation in SARA and abide by all representations and understandings required on the application;
- Maintain sufficient financial health to support distance education programs, especially any programs that will expect to expand enrollment through SARA. A private non-profit or for-profit institution is deemed to have sufficient financial strength if its most recently published U.S. Department of Education financial responsibility composite score is 1.5 or above; institutions with a financial stability ratio of 1.0-1.49 may be deemed to have sufficient financial strength upon review of additional justification, and such institutions may be required to post a surety.
- Maintain internal grievance and/or complaint procedures distributed in its publications and posted on its web site with a reference and link to CHE’s Student Complaint Procedures and form. Complaints regarding student grades or conduct violations are governed entirely by institutional policy and will not be considered by CHE.
- Have in place catastrophic event policies and procedures including disaster recovery plans, particularly with respect to the protection of student records, consistent with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) best practices for closure, or those of other U.S. Department of Education-recognized accreditors;
- Complete and submit the Memorandum of Understanding for participation in SC-SARA as a part of the institution’s application. The Memorandum of Understanding is only submitted as a part of the institution’s initial application.
- Pay fees to both CHE and NC-SARA.
All institutions submit the following supporting documentation along with the application for participation in SARA:
State Fee and Fee Schedule
- Documentation of legal domicile in South Carolina.
- Most current accreditation letter from an accrediting body recognized by the U. S. Secretary of Education.
- Signed original Memorandum of Understanding (once signed by CHE leadership, a copy will be provided to the institution).
- Evidence of a student complaint procedure distributed in its publications and posted on its website with a reference and link to CHE’s Student Complaint and Procedures form.
- Catastrophic events policy.
- South Carolina SARA participation fee.
- In addition, independent and nonpublic institutions must submit their most recently published U.S. Department of Education financial responsibility composite score. Institutions with a financial stability ratio of 1.0-1.49 may be deemed to have sufficient financial strength upon review of additional justification, and such institutions may be required to post a surety.
The CHE fee schedule for institutions applying to participate in SARA will follow that of NC-SARA, with the annual fee to participate varying by enrolled full-time equivalent (FTE) students:
$2,000 for institutions with fewer than 2,500 FTE students
$4,000 for institutions with 2,500-9,999 FTE students
$6,000 for institutions with 10,000 or more FTE students
Please note: institutions approved to participate in SARA must renew applications annually and pay both CHE and NC-SARA fees. The check for the SC-SARA fee shall be made payable to the SC Commission on Higher Education, with a memo to SC-SARA.
Mail the application, supporting documentation, and SC-SARA fee to:
SC Commission on Higher Education
1122 Lady Street, Suite 300
Columbia, SC 29201
SARA-Related Student Complaints
CHE serves as the state’s portal agency for SARA and is the final authority for SARA-related complaints. If an out-of-state student enrolled in an SC institution via distance education wishes to file a complaint, he or she may complete and submit the CHE Student Complaint and Procedures form.
Statutory Authority: 1976 Code Section 59-103-17
National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA)
NC-SARA Application and Approval Form
C-RAC Inter-regional Guidelines for the Evaluation of Distance Education
SACSCOC Best Practices for Closure
US Department of Education-recognized accreditors
CHE Student Complaint and Procedures Form
SC-SARA Schedule of Fees
Memorandum of Understanding between CHE and SC Institution
For more information regarding SC-SARA please contact, Peggy Simons, Program Coordinator, Academic Affairs, Postsecondary Institution Licensing, firstname.lastname@example.org, (803) 737-3476