Reciprocal Agreements

Last Updated: November 22, 2016

Reciprocal Agreements

Reciprocal agreements are the most promising way to ease the burdens of institutional compliance.

The State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA) establishes national standards for interstate offering of distance-education courses and programs plus standards for other activities including, but not limited to: experiential learning, recruiting, and marketing in a state other than the home state of the institution. SARA standards apply only in SARA states for institutions that “operate under” or “participate in” SARA.

SARA Manual

History of State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA)

The Presidents' Forum of Excelsior College and Council of State Governments received funding from the Lumina Foundation to create a model interstate agreement. They released their final draft of the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA) in January 2013.

  • Based on the Presidents' Forum's work, the four regional compacts (MHEC, NEBHE, SREB and WICHE) are each developed their implementation models for SARA: M-SARA, N-SARA, S-SARA and W-SARA.
  • The Commission on Regulation of Postsecondary Distance Education is a committee formed by SHEEO and APLU to address authorization issues. On February 25, 2013, they released a draft version of their final report for open comment. Their report was based upon the work of both the President's Forum/CSG and WICHE/regional compact efforts.
  • Final Reciprocity Recommendations from the Commission April 11, 2013 (large document).
  • In August 2013, National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA) was established.
  • The Lumina foundation has been instrumental providing additional funding for implementation of the initiative.
  • The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has also provided funding for this effort.
  • In January 2014, the higher education compacts began inviting states in their region to participate in SARA.

Collaboration to develop SARA included input from the following:

  • A broad advisory committee.
  • Regional higher education compacts (MHEC, NEBHE, SREB, WICHE).
  • State regulators.
  • State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEOs).
  • Accrediting organizations.
  • U.S. Department of Education
  • Institutional leaders representing all sectors of higher education.

Important Aspects of SARA

  • SARA is an agreement among member states, districts, and territories. 
  • States join SARA through their respective regional compact (MHEC, NHEBE, SREB, WICHE).
  • States must renew their membership to SARA every other year.
  • State membership is voluntary – not all states are members.
  • Oversight of the institution is by the “home state” of the institution offering the instruction. The host state (where the student resides) can also work to resolve problems.
  • Institutions apply to their state to “operate under” or “participate in” SARA.
  • Institutions must pay an annual fee to NC-SARA to participate. (Some states require an additional fee to the state)
  • Institutions must renew their participation with their state on an annual basis.
  • SARA provides reciprocity compliance for many out of state activities of the institution, but not all. 
  • SARA Manual is available to be downloaded.

Full details and contacts may be found on the NC-SARA website.



NOTE: This information is not endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education. Information and advice provided on these pages is not guaranteed. Given the myriad of regulations and understandings about their meaning, these pages represent our best interpretation of what we have learned. If you see information that appears to be incorrect, we invite you to notify us.