Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Awards $200,000 Grant to Presidents’ Forum to Continue Work on State Reciprocity

Presidents' Forum, hosted by Excelsior College. The Presidents’ Forum today announced a $200,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to provide outreach and information to state public policy and postsecondary education leaders about the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA).

“SARA would broaden student access to accredited online degree programs and ensure strong consumer protection while alleviating the onerous costs imposed on institutions – and consequentially, students – under the Federal state authorization requirements,” said Dr. Paul Shiffman, CEO of the Forum. “The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been closely tracking our progress on this issue and through this grant is providing the funds to continue education and outreach on this defining issue.”

New regulations proposed by the U.S. Department of Education this month indicate an openness to recognizing SARA as a means for satisfying state authorization requirements inherent to institutional participation in Title IV federal student financial aid programs. The current patchwork of state authorization rules and regulations require that institutions obtain authorization to legally offer distance learning courses to students within the various states. SARA intends to introduce efficiency into the state authorization process, establishes interstate uniformity in regards to necessary and reasonable standards of practice, and offers a more effective framework for dealing with quality and integrity issues.

Paul Shiffman, Excelsior College

Dr. Paul Shiffman, CEO, Presidents’ Forum

“Finding agreement on a common set of standards would make for a far more rational and efficient state approval process for distance learning programs and better align the process with a national agenda seeking increased degree completion,” said Shiffman.

The Presidents’ Forum, hosted and founded by Excelsior College in 2004, is a collaboration of more than 150 accredited, national, adult-serving institutions and programs which have embraced the power and potential of online education. The group works to advance and share innovative best practices and advocate on key issues affecting the higher education industry, including assessment, workforce development, student debt, financial aid fraud, and more.

Since 2010, the Forum has been working under two Lumina Foundation grants to pursue SARA, the last of which is set to expire at the end of the 2014.