Through the act Sec. 3 20-A MRSA �405, sub- �3, the 127th Maine Legislature, authorized the State Board of Education to participate in the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA) through the New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE). Thus the Maine Department of Education (Maine DOE) is the new portal agency for SARA
SARA is an agreement among its member states, districts and U.S. territories that establishes comparable national standards for interstate offerings of postsecondary distance-education courses and programs. It is intended to make it easier for students to take online courses offered by postsecondary institutions in a state other than the one where they reside. SARA is overseen by a nation council and administered by four regional higher education compacts, with the New England Board of Higher Education being the regional entity for the State of Maine.
Steps for Institutional Approval Process for SARA Participation
Application for institutional approval to participate in SARA. An institution seeking approval to operate under the terms and standards of the State Authorization Reciprocity Network (SARA) must meet the requirements in the application. Once completed, please submit your application to Maine Department of Education.
- State portal agency notifies institutions the state is a member.
- Institution applies to state to participate in SARA. [Application can be found here: http://nc-sara.org/content/sara-applications
- State portal agency reviews applications and if approved, notifies NC-SARA and sends payment link to the institution.
- Institution access link and sends payment to WICHE/NC-SARA.
- NC-SARA confirms payment, sends welcome materials to the institution and lists institution on NC-SARA website.
Note: Institution must renew annually to maintain participation status.
Steps for SARA Approved Out-of-State Institution of Higher Education (IHE) Seeking to Register with the Maine DOE
- Complete the questionnaire.
- Scan and email a copy of NC-SARA approval letter to firstname.lastname@example.org.
SARA Consumer Protection Provisions
SARA consumer protection provisions require the home state (Maine), through the Maine DOE, to investigate and resolve allegations of dishonest or fraudulent activity by a provider, including the provision of false or misleading information.
SARA policies and standards, including those for consumer protection and the resolution of complaints, apply to interstate distance education offered by participating SARA institutions to students in other SARA states. Only those complaints resulting from distance education courses offered by participating institutions to students in other SARA states come under the terms of the agreement. Complaints about a SARA institution’s in-state operations are to be resolved under the state’s provisions, not those of SARA.
Consumer protection within SARA, in addition to dealing with alleged fraudulent activity, also provides for the investigation and resolution of complaints that an institution is operating a course or program contrary to practices set forth by the Interregional Guidelines for the Evaluation of Distance Education in such a way that a student is harmed. Examples of issues that may arise in regard to alleged fraudulent activity or more general complaints include, but are not limited to:
- Veracity of recruitment and marketing materials;
- Accuracy of job placement data;
- Accuracy of information about tuition, fees and financial aid;
- Complete and accurate admission requirements for courses and programs;
- Accuracy of information about the institution’s accreditation and/or any programmatic/specialized accreditation held by the institution’s programs;
- Accuracy of information about whether course work meets any relevant professional licensing requirements or the requirements of specialized accrediting bodies;
- Accuracy of information about whether the institution’s course work will transfer to other institutions; and
- Operation of distance education programs consistent with practices expected by institutional accreditors (and, if applicable, programmatic/specialized accreditors) and/or the Interregional Guidelines for the Evaluation of distance education.
Resolution Steps for Complaints
Complaints against an institution operating under SARA go first through the institution’s own procedures for resolution of grievances. Institutions operating under SARA are required to make their own complaint resolution policies and procedures and the SARA complaint resolution policies and procedures readily available to all students taking courses under SARA provisions.
State of Maine Complaint Form. (PDF, 265KB) This form should be used by any current student or former student enrolled in an online degree program who seeks to file a complaint against a degree-granting institution approved to operate under the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA).
- Students should exhaust the formal complaint process of the host institution.
- Students should file a complaint through SARA that includes documentation that the student has exhausted the formal complaint process at host postsecondary institution.
- The Maine DOE reviews the complaint and supporting documents. The Maine DOE may request further documentation from the participating SARA institution mentioned in the complaint.
- Maine DOE determines if the resolution of the host institution is acceptable. If so, complaint process is concluded and previous resolution is sustained. If the previous resolution is found not acceptable by the Maine DOE, then the complaint will be further investigated until resolved.
- Student receives final disposition letter from the Maine DOE.
- Maine Statutes and Regulations link: https://www.mainelegislature.org/legis/statutes/20-A/title20-Asec405.html
- Rule 05-071, CMR 149: Procedures for Obtaining Authorization for Institutions Of Higher Education To Confer Academic Degrees Or To Offer Degree Courses/Programs In The State Of Maine
- Important Definitions
- Exempt Institution: Any institution of higher education whose course or program offerings would not be granted academic credit and any institution of higher education whose course or program offerings would be conducted on a Federal reservation over which the United States Government has exclusive jurisdiction. All institutions of higher education seeking to be considered for exempt status will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
- Physical Presence: Designation applied to any institution offering degrees and academic credits from within Maine to recipients anywhere, and it applies to any person assisting with such an institution. It further applies to any institution offering degrees and academic credits from outside of Maine if there is any person assisting the institution in any way from within Maine. This includes a) maintaining an office or mailing address in the State or b) conducting any part of the instructional program or support activities from within the State. Specifically, this includes: advertising, solicitation of potential students, enrollment of students, providing student services, student mentoring, and instruction of students.
- Important Definitions