State Approval Requirements

Requirements for States

*please note that this is not the distance education portion of the federal regulation

The announcement in the Federal Register 34 CFR 600.9 (a) & (b) reads: “These final regulations do not mandate that a State create any licensing agency for purposes of Federal program eligibility.” 

State licensure and approval agencies need to:

  • Approve institutions to "operate" in the state according to their own regulations, if any.
  • Upon request of the US ED, provide a list of institutions approved to operate in the state by name. 
  • Maintain a third-party process to review and address complaints from students attending institutions approved to operate in that state.

Requirements for Institutions

Institutions must: 

  • Comply with any applicable state approval or licensure requirements in each state as directed by the states' laws and regulations.
  • Provide its students and prospective students with contact information for filing complaints with its accrediting agency and with the appropriate state agency. NOTE: This federal requirement (§ 34 CFR 668.43 (b) Institutional Information) was NOT vacated by the court and institutions are expected to have been in compliance by July 1, 2011. See our blog posting on this issue.
  • Compliance may also be achieved for many of the institution's activities in most states through the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA) if the institution is approved by the state's SARA portal agency.

Defining 'Operate' and 'Not Physically Located'

The definition of "operating" or "physical presence" in a state is left to the laws and regulations of each state. The definitions vary greatly from state-to-state.

For some states, no (or very few) institutions will need to apply. For a small number of states, almost every institution will need to apply. In the majority of states, the need to seek authorization depends on the specific combination of that state's laws and the activities that the institution is conducting in that state. For some of these states, if you are only offering 100% online courses in the state, you will not need to apply. However, if you are also conducting any one of a list of "trigger" activities (i.e., advertising in local media, advertising directly to prospective students, using local proctors, employing faculty or marketers locally), you could be required to apply. The list of "trigger" activities varies by state. Note that regulations may have changed in a few states as the states became SARA states.  You should review the requirements in the states periodically.

Compiled by:

Russ PoulinRussell Poulin
Director, Policy and Analysis
WCET - WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies
Phone: (303) 541-0305


Marianne BoekeMarianne Boeke
Senior Research Associate, NCHEMS
Phone: (303) 497-0357



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.