Cover Photo Image


This is an overview of how the function of state authorization impacts JMU management of various educational activities that occur in a state or territory outside of Virginia. The State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements, commonly known as SARA enable an efficient and effective process for states and institutions to meet most of the associated obligations. The information below defines state authorization and explains the purpose of SARA. 

What is State Authorization?

State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (SARA)

Map of SARA States

Student Policies and Notifications

What is State Authorization?

State authorization is a longstanding requirement in the 1965 Higher Education Act, which with many modifications, is still in effect. The legislation requires that in order to receive Title IV Federal student aid, institutions must be authorized in the state* in which they are located. Thus, while federal regulations and regional accrediting organizations drive many educational activities and policies within an institution, the states -- not the federal government or accrediting organizations -- typically oversee educational activities and authorize institutions to operate within their borders.

A state authorizes institutions that are located within its borders, and institutions that are located elsewhere but offer educational activities within its borders. Necessarily, institutions that want to offer educational activities in a state other than its own must seek approval from the other state. While these activities include distance learning, the regulation actually applies to any type of educational activity initiated by an institution within a state. In addition to distance education, educational activities such as student practica, student recruitment, and institutional employment can all trigger the need for an institution to seek state approval.

The physical location of a student while engaged in an educational activity will also trigger the need to seek approval. It is important to note that "physical location" is not necessarily the same as "residence;" the need for approval is based on where a student is actually located while participating in a practicum, taking an online course, or completing a multi-week seminar.

Finally, there are two types of state authorization: 1) an institution as a whole must seek approval to offer educational activities in a state; and 2) if an institution offers programs designed to lead to professional licensure, the institution must follow rules and expectations of any associated professional licensing board for states in which students are engaging in associated educational activities. For example, if a nursing student is participating in a clinical practicum, the institution must determine if its nursing program meets the licensure requirements in the state in which the student is physically located and then inform the student accordingly.


State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (SARA)

The State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements or SARA make it easier for states to authorize institutions and for institutions to obtain approval to offer educational activities in a state other than its own (referred to here as offering "out-of-state learning activities"). SARA centralizes the authorization process for each institution in a single state called the institution’s “home state.” Colleges or universities in a SARA state therefore only need their home state authorization to offer educational activities to students in any other SARA member state, subject to certain limitations.

Under the auspices of the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV), Virginia is a member of SARA and JMU is approved to participate in SARA. This means that JMU can initiate many out-of-state learning activities in other SARA-approved states without seeking approval from those states. For example, students located in other SARA-approved states can participate in JMU online courses and programs and field experiences such as practica, internships, and clinical placements without JMU having to seek authorization from those states. (See the map of SARA states below and the "States" menu on for a complete list of SARA states.)

However, the SARA agreement does not completely eliminate the need for institutions to seek additional authorization from other states or to ensure that specific information is made available to students. For example, institutions must seek authorization from any non-SARA state; certain field placement conditions trigger the need to seek approval; and institutions that offer programs intended to lead to professional licensure must inform students if those programs do or do not meet the relevant state professional licensing boards' requirements.

Use the resources on this site to determine what steps your academic unit needs to take to ensure that it is in compliance with the SARA requirements and other requirements not covered by the SARA agreement.

*U.S. territories also govern educational activities within their borders. For simplicity, we will use "state" to include these territories. 

Map of SARA States and Territories (updated August 2018)

 Map of SARA States

Back to Top