A bill submitted by Del. James P. “Jimmie” Massey III, R-Henrico, would promote online education in Virginia by making it easier for the state’s higher ed institutions to enroll out-of-state students.
Frank Muraca, executive editor of Fourth Estate, George Mason University’s student-run news publication, has the story here.
Colleges and universities such as GMU are turning to distance education as a means to offer accessible, low-cost options to students who may not be able to commute to campus or commit to regularly scheduled classes. GMU Provost Peter Stearns wrote in March 2013 that Mason’s online programs would be “aimed strongly at out-of-state student audiences.”
But there’s a problem, Muraca explains. Virginia institutions offering distance education to out-of-state students must obtain authorization from the states in which they reside, a costly and bureaucratic process. The State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement eliminates a lot of the hassle. States SARA’s website:
[SARA] is an agreement among member states, districts and 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.
Massie’s bill authorizes the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV) to join the agreement and approve of disapprove or participation by Virginia institutions.
It’s good to see that GMU is experimenting aggressively with both online courses and hybrid online/classroom courses. Between 4,000 and 6,000 GU students are enrolled in at least one online course per semester. Online education is a key component of the university’s newly adopted strategic plan.
It’s also encouraging to see that SCHEV is promoting SARA. Virginia public universities are not required to opt into the agreement, but as SCHEV communications director Kirsten Nelsen wrote in a press release, they would be advised to. “To ignore this opportunity risks falling behind other states as they join this cooperative effort. This will create a disadvantage for Virginia’s institutions and the students they serve.”