Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee

JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT

Bill No.:

HB-5071

Title:

AN ACT REQUIRING CONNECTICUT TO PARTICIPATE IN THE STATE AUTHORIZATION RECIPROCITY AGREEMENT REGARDING DISTANCE LEARNING PROGRAMS.

Vote Date:

2/25/2016

Vote Action:

Joint Favorable

PH Date:

2/18/2016

File No.:

SPONSORS OF BILL:

Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee

REASONS FOR BILL:

The bill serves to enable Connecticut institutions of higher education to participate in the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA). This allows institutions to ensure uniform standards for distance learning programs, both for Connecticut students taking classes at institutions located outside of the state, and for out of state students wishing to participate in classes at Connecticut institutions. This will also eliminate the need for Connecticut institutions to participate in the costly and time consuming process of receiving approvals in each state they seek to offer distance learning courses in.

RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:

Jane Ciarleglio, Executive Director, Office of Higher Education: The Office of Higher Education is in opposition to this bill, as they feel that SARA has a close relationship with for-profit institutions, and joining SARA will allow these for-profit institutions to recruit Connecticut students. Ms. Ciarlegio is also concerned that the out of state institutions Connecticut students will have access to under SARA are not held to the same accreditation or academic standards as Connecticut institutions, and, as such, the students will suffer. Under SARA, Connecticut students who have been harmed by out of state institutions will need to seek restitution there, eliminating the Office of Higher Education's ability to provide legal protections for all Connecticut students. Finally, while joining SARA might encourage minimal increases of out of state students attending Connecticut institutions, the concern is that the real benefit is to out of state institutions gaining access to Connecticut students. Connecticut should instead seek to enter into a multistate reciprocity agreement that would provide students with the high academic standards and legal protections they have come to expect from Connecticut institutions, which would not be the case should we join SARA.

Mark Ojakian, President, Connecticut State Colleges and Universities: President Ojakian and the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities are dedicated to increasing access to higher education. As such, they understand that passing the bill would be beneficial to many institutes of higher education, especially Charter Oak State College. However, there are still some questions regarding the quality of the programs and the protections of student rights. Their organization is currently gathering feedback and welcomes further discussion on the bill.

NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:

Kris Bickell, Director of Global Learning Initiatives, University of Bridgeport: Ms. Bickell testified in support of the bill. She stated that the resources used by the current approval process for out of state programs, both financially and in time spent on the associated administrative tasks, would be made available if Connecticut were to join SARA. These resources could then be reinvested into the students. She writes in her testimony, “By joining SARA, the State of Connecticut would help institutions like ours to have a more consistent framework in which to work through the state authorization process, and ultimately better serve our students.”

Colonel (Ret) Harold Cooney, State Liaison – Northeast Region, Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense: Col. Cooney submitted testimony in support of the bill. His office supports the bill because it would allow members of the military to continue their education regardless of where they are stationed, which can change every two to three years. He sees joining SARA as beneficial to the education of our military members and as a way to “remove one more hurdle experienced by our Service men and women as they proudly serve our great nation.”

Mary Lou Derosa, Vice Provost for Special Academic Programs, Sacred Heart University: Ms. Derosa testified in support of the bill, stating that by not joining SARA, Connecticut students and institutions are at a disadvantage. By joining SARA, the application process for Connecticut institutions to offer courses to students in other states becomes simplified, giving the institutions more flexibility on the type and number of courses they are able to offer. This benefits students and keeps Connecticut institutions competitive with other online programs across the country.

Jennifer Herz, Assistant Counsel, Connecticut Business and Industry Association: The Connecticut Business and Industry Association (CBIA) supports the bill because it offers Connecticut students, especially those in the key demographic of 25–64 year olds, more flexibility to work towards obtaining a post-secondary education or certificate. This promotes more opportunities for Connecticut residents to obtain an education, especially if they have work or family constraints. This encourages a better prepared workforce for highly skilled and well paying positions.

Steven Kaplan, Ph. D, President, University of New Haven: Dr. Kaplan submit testimony in favor of the bill. The University of New Haven has programs in the fields of criminal justice, investigation, and emergency management for which it is nationally and internationally recognized, however, they are hampered in their ability to offer these courses online in other states by the burdensome process of state-by-state review and associated fees. Participation in a national reciprocity program such as SARA would alleviate this burden and allow the University of New Haven to reach many more students. Joining SARA would also improve the overall quality of the online programs at Connecticut's institutions of higher learning, at a benefit to all students.

Ed Klonoski, President, Charter Oak State College: President Klonoski testified in support of the bill. As Connecticut's only public distance learning institution, and one whose student body is made up of approximately 30% out of state students, Charter Oak has been disadvantaged by a lack of a national reciprocity agreement. Joining SARA would cut the fees the college would pay to be authorized to take in students from other states from more than $40,000 per year to only $4,000 per year. Passing this bill would provide benefits to Connecticut's students through more educational options and more standardized oversight and regulation through SARA. Mr. Klonoski also notes that, since the program is voluntary, even if Connecticut joined SARA, no school in the state would be compelled to participate.

Dr. R.J. McGivney, Assistant Provost for Online Programs, University of Hartford: Dr. McGivney submitted testimony in support of the bill. The University of Hartford believes that, outside of SARA, it is both cost prohibitive and overly time consuming to offer online courses, as each state has its own fees and application processes. While Connecticut's current system may have been intended to deter for-profit institutions, it is in fact the for-profit institutions that are best suited, both financially and resource-wise, to comply with the regulations imposed by each state. Therefore, joining SARA would level the playing field for institutions in Connecticut seeking to engage in distance learning across states.

Gary Minor, Senior Director of College Relations, Goodwin College: Mr. Minor submitted testimony in favor of the bill. He believes that participation in SARA would alleviate the burden on colleges of applying for authorization to provide distance learning courses in other states. SARA standardizes the process, and would allow Goodwin to offer a wider selection of courses to a greater number of students, thus providing increased opportunity to the students of Connecticut and additional faculty to administer these programs.

Ann Roselle, MSN, APRN-BC, Nurse Practitioner, Bethany: Ms. Roselle submitted testimony in support of the bill. In her experience pursing a post-master's certification and doctorate degree, she was discouraged that she could not find an online program at a Connecticut institution that met her needs. Taking part- or full-time classes at a Connecticut institution would cause an undue financial burden to her family. However, she was unable to take online courses at the out of state institution of her choice, as their school participated in SARA, while Connecticut does not. Therefore, she urges the passage of the bill so that students in her situation will be able to take classes at the time and location of their choice.

Michael Thomas, President and CEO, New England Board of Higher Education: Mr. Thomas submitted testimony on behalf of the New England Board of Higher Education in support of the bill. He writes, “As proposed, SARA can, over time, make state authorization policy and regulatory mechanisms more consistent across the states, regions and the nation,” and makes note that participation in the agreement is voluntary at the institutional level. In addition, he testifies that participation in SARA would provide more regulatory protections to Connecticut students taking online courses at out of state institutions.

Jennifer Widness, President, Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges: President Widness testified in favor of the bill. She noted that joining SARA would give Connecticut's colleges and universities the option to participate, not compel them to. She writes, “It does not require that any Connecticut institution participate in SARA; it simply provides a much-needed option to do so.” President Widness sites that seeking approval in multiple states is cost prohibitive and very time consuming. Joining SARA would help to alleviate this burden. She also testified that the increase in quality online programs that SARA would allow would help Connecticut to reach non-traditional student populations, such as adult learners.

Representative Lezlye Zupkus: Representative Zupkus submit testimony in support of the bill, as it will allow students to more seamlessly transfer college credits from other SARA member states. This will contribute towards providing Connecticut families with more affordable ways to finance higher education.

NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:

Roberto Fernandez, Political Organizer, Congress of Connecticut Community Colleges: While the Congress of Connecticut Community Colleges (The 4Cs), agrees that a reciprocity agreement between states and universities would benefit Connecticut's students, they believe the bill needs to include provisions to protect these students. The 4Cs site issues with implementation of SARA in states such as California and New York and legal questions raised by the Attorney General of Minnesota when arguing that more care needs to be taken to ensure Connecticut students are protected under the bill.

Elizabeth Flanagan, PhD, Assistant Professor, and Allison Ponce, PhD, Associate Professor, Yale School of Medicine: Professors Flanagan and Ponce submitted testimony in opposition to the bill. They are concerned that, since member schools are held to SARA's degree requirements, rather than Connecticut's, students are at risk of receiving an inferior education and being unable to meet state licensure requirements with their out of state degrees.

Lisa Stifler, Senior Policy Counsel, Center for Responsible Lending: Attorney Stifler submitted testimony in opposition of the bill. The Center for Responsible Lending expressed concern that, by joining SARA, Connecticut would be making its students vulnerable to for-profit institutions. Connecticut would lose its regulatory authority over schools offering online classes to Connecticut students, thus putting the students at risk. They are also concerned that, since member schools are held to SARA's academic standards rather than those of the state of Connecticut, students will be ill qualified for professional licensures in Connecticut with their out of state degrees. They believe SARA does not do enough to protect students and urges the committee to vote against the bill.

Tom Swan, Executive Director, Connecticut Citizen Action Group: The Connecticut Citizen Action Group opposes the bill because they do not feel there are enough protections for students in the current bill, and ask that more are added. They are also concerned that the academic quality standards of held by SARA undermine those currently in place in Connecticut, at a detriment to the students.

Reported by: Assistant Clerk Sam Westbrook

Date: March 2, 2016