DOTHAN, Ala. ― Alabama colleges and universities will soon have an easier way to offer online courses to students in other states, and out-of-state institutions will have the same opportunity to offer online course in Alabama, thanks to an interstate agreement.
Currently, to offer distance education courses in Alabama, colleges and universities must gain approval from the Alabama Commission on Higher Education. Now that Alabama is a member of the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement, schools in participating states that have been approved by their state’s equivalent to ACHE will be able to offer online courses in Alabama.
Colleges and universities in Alabama approved by ACHE will be able to offer classes in participating states without having to go through those states’ approval processes.
Greg Fitch, ACHE executive director, said Alabama joining the pact will help cut down on costs to colleges and universities associated with offering degrees in other states. Many schools have had to pay exorbitant fees to offer classes in other states. Here in Alabama, schools will pay just $6,000 to SARA and $6,000 to ACHE per year to offer classes online.
“We had some schools that were charged up to $25,000 per degree program,” Fitch said.
For students, the interstate agreement is beneficial because it ensures that the institutions they are taking courses from meet accepted standards of instruction. In recent years, many students have taken online courses from diploma mills, fly-by-night institutions offering degrees that often aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. When students take online courses from a approved school, they can be sure that they’re getting a legitimate degree.
One thing students will still need to do is make sure that agencies that certify or license the professions they’re seeking a degree to join recognize their institution’s degree program, Fitch said. For example, students majoring in education at an out-of-state school will need to ensure that their school’s education degree program meets the requirements for teacher certification in Alabama.
The State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement was established in 2014, and 36 states and 588 colleges and universities are participating. Alabama colleges and universities can apply to join on Feb. 1.
Fitch said several major Alabama universities, including the University of Alabama, Auburn University, the University of South Alabama and Troy University, have expressed interest in joining the agreement.