Ohio University

State Authorization FAQs

What is state authorization?

According to the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET), “States expect that your institution obtain the necessary approvals (if any) before advertising or serving students in their state.” Ohio University must comply with all regulations and receive authorization from a state before allowing students from that state to participate in any educational activities through the University.

These regulations not only address distance education, but also field experiences and face-to-face education. States expect that institutions obtain approval before enrolling students, advertising, marketing, or performing other regulated activities in their state. The requirements as to which activities need authorization, the application processes, and the costs to comply vary greatly from state to state.

Authorization is a two sided issue:

  1. The state of Ohio grants authorization to institutions that want to market, operate, enroll, or participate in other education-related activities in Ohio. This is done through the Ohio Department of Higher Education.
  2. An institution must be authorized by each state to offer education in that state or to provide an education to residents of that state. Each institution is responsible for all aspects of applying for authorization and maintaining compliance with every state in which that institution wishes to operate.

What is the relationship between state authorization, online, and distance education?

According to the State Authorization Regulation Chapter 34, § 600.9(c): “If an institution is offering postsecondary education through distance or correspondence education to students in a State in which it is not physically located or in which it is otherwise subject to State jurisdiction as determined by the State, the institution must meet any State requirements for it to be legally offering postsecondary distance or correspondence education in that State.”

In 2010, the Department of Education declared changes related to institutional compliance with state authorization, specifically for online and distance education. These regulations protect higher education students, and they also affected an institution’s eligibility for certain programs, such as Title IV and VA funding. The Department of Education’s announcement brought attention to the issue of states operating in other states without approval, and there has been a heightened awareness of state authorization and the expectation that institutions will comply.

With the regulations in place, Ohio University, rather than the state of Ohio or any other higher education institution in Ohio, is ultimately responsible and accountable for state authorization. Ohio University must receive authorization and remain compliant in all states in which it operates.

How does this affect my department?

Ohio University must seek authorization from every state and document our efforts to do so. We will need your department’s assistance in ensuring we have a complete picture of all activity taking place in other states. We need to know where you are recruiting new students, what online and distance students are required to do in courses, where your instructors and proctors are located for online and distance courses, and where students are completing field experiences for online and distance programs, as well as for face-to-face programs.

What does it mean to “operate” in a state or to have a physical presence “trigger,” especially if we are only doing online delivery?

States define these terms differently. Operating in a state or having a physical presence trigger can vary from having a physical location in a state to enrolling a resident of a state in an online class. Here are some physical presence triggers to be aware of:

  • Requiring a student to complete a field experience (such as internships, externships, clinical practicums, or using a preceptor)
  • Advertising or marketing to recruit online and distance students using local media
  • Hiring proctors or instructors in another state
  • Owning an administrative or instructional space
  • Recruiting students from another state

See the State Authorization Faculty and Staff page for more information.

Why don’t we apply for full authorization in every state?

Some states charge several thousand dollars for an institution to receive full authorization in that state depending on the number and type of programs Ohio University offers. Also, there are some states that require a surety bond, which ensures contract completion in the event of contractor default. It acts as an insurance policy between the state and the institution to cover any consumer (student) loss in the event of misrepresentation.

What is necessary in completing an application?

To complete an application, Ohio University may be required to provide course descriptions, curriculum, syllabi, field placement locations, projected annual enrollments, financial statements, library resources, and faculty profiles (including vitae and qualification confirmation).

What kind of information does the Office of Instructional Innovation need from my department?

The department seeks to gain a better understanding of your recruitment and marketing practices, as well as the instructional activities and student demographics. We also are communicating with various units to gather student residency and online enrollment information, which will be used for an inventory of Ohio University’s out-of-state activities.

What other considerations should we keep in mind?

If your department offers programs that require students to have licensure to practice in the field (such as nursing, social work, psychology, and education), there may be additional authorization that is required. Academic programs and individual graduates must meet standards set by that state in order to be eligible for a license. If your department’s program does not meet licensure requirements in another state, do not enroll students from that state. Programs should list whether they meet other state’s licensure requirements via their website and/or written documentation sent to out-of-state residents.

What is the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA)?

According to the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements, 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.” Under SARA, the state of Ohio, rather than Ohio University or any other higher education institution in Ohio, is ultimately responsible and accountable for state authorization.

Through reciprocity, an institution authorized under SARA criteria in its home state would be considered authorized in all other SARA states. As of January 2016, 36 states have been accepted into SARA, with projections that SARA will have 45 states by the end of 2016. SARA does not completely replace state authorization. For more information about SARA, visit http://nc-sara.org/content/basic-questions-about-sara.

What if we do not comply?

According to WCET, the following scenarios are possible.

State: A state could send a cease-and-desist order or fine an institution that does not comply. Before issuing punitive action, a state will try to require an institution to become authorized or stop serving students in that state.

Federal: If the Department of Education restores the regulation, institutions could be required to pay back federal financial aid for students in non-compliant states. The Department of Education still requires institutions to tell students where the institution is authorized and how to file a complaint.

Students: Students could file legal action against institutions that do not have the proper authorization to operate in a state and do not notify students.

Where can I find more information about state authorization?

Is there a contact for more information about state authorization at Ohio University?

Contact Kia Stone, the coordinator of compliance & quality assurance, at 740.593.2558 or stonek1@ohio.edu.


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