Massey Bill to Expedite Online Learning for Higher Ed

Online learning at GMU.
Online learning at GMU.

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.”

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8 responses to “Massey Bill to Expedite Online Learning for Higher Ed”

  1. why does Va need approval from other states?

  2. For the same reason that firms obtain a business license depending on which state they’re in. Each state has a separate set of criteria for their education programs and instead of every single university separately going back and forth with state officials this will help create a common set of regulations.

  3. better… but if a student from out of state can attend a Va College without all of this ..why not be able to “attend” virtually?

    Liberty University offers a LOT of online courses.. do they have to register as a business in all the other states?

    talk slow.. I’m slow…


  4. @Larryg

    The difference is that the Va College is providing the service to the out-of-state student from the state that they’re originally from. From the law’s point-of-view, that’s different than when an out-of-state student travels to a Virginia school to be educated.

    In fact, almost every Va public university is ramping up their online platforms – it’s only when they enroll an out-of-state student that they have to jump through the hoops.

  5. Thanks Frank… How about private like Liberty University ?

    How does any state KNOW… oops.. I think I’m starting to see…

    maybe.. does it have to do with recognizing another state’s …another out-of-state College’s credits?

    cause surely anyone could take an online course in another state even for a certificate and it would be none of the home state’s business anyhow – unless the student wanted the home state to accept the credits towards their own college…

    then you have all these other for-profit online schools – like Phoenix and like Liberty.. that are not part of any State system…

    so if the student never wants/needs to transfer the credits.. no need for reciprocity, right?

  6. I’m confused as well. What is the point of requiring an interstate approval process? Is there a consumer protection argument missing here?

  7. Please see the information about SARA here and information about the relevant federal regs that started this all here. And, yes, this all affects private institutions, regardless of their tax status.

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