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Massachusetts SARA FAQs & Resources

This FAQs & Resources webpage is intended for SARA contacts at IHEs that are interested in applying to participate in Massachusetts SARA or are currently in the process of renewing institutional participation in Massachusetts SARA. For questions in general regarding Massachusetts SARA, please visit the DHE’s SARA webpage.


Frequently Asked Questions

How much does it cost to participate in Massachusetts SARA?

Institutions that wish to participate in Massachusetts SARA must first pay a fee to DHE. The fee will vary depending on the FTE of that institution as reported in IPEDS. Once DHE has determined that an institution is eligible to participate in Massachusetts SARA, the institution will then pay a fee to NC-SARA. Each fee—one to DHE and one to NC-SARA—are due every year that the institution continues to participate in Massachusetts SARA.

How does an institution remit payment of the Massachusetts SARA fee to DHE and NC-SARA?

Payment of the Massachusetts SARA fee is required to be made in the form of a check mailed or couriered, made payable to DHE, in accordance with these instructions. After DHE deems an institution eligible to participate in Massachusetts SARA, the institution’s SARA contacts will receive an email directly from NC-SARA for instructions on how to remit payment to NC-SARA.

How long does it take for DHE to process payment of the Massachusetts SARA fee?

Please allow 1–2 weeks for DHE to process payment of the Massachusetts SARA fee after payment has been mailed or couriered. DHE’s payment processes involve necessary security measures which, on occasion, may vary the amount of time required for DHE to fully receive and process an institution’s payment. If you have any questions regarding the status of an institution’s Massachusetts SARA fee payment, please reach out to the DHE’s SARA Team via email at SARAInquiries@dhe.mass.edu or by phone at 617-994-6910.

How long does it usually take for DHE to evaluate institutional applications for eligibility to participate in Massachusetts SARA?

Since the DHE began accepting institutional applications on June 18, 2018, application processing times have remained steady. On average, institutional applicants have received a final determination of eligibility within 2–4 weeks, depending in part upon the completeness of the initial Massachusetts SARA application submission and the volume of applications DHE has received.

What is the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA)?

NC-SARA is the national organization that coordinates SARA Regional Compacts, SARA Portal Entities, and SARA-member institutions across the United States. Most questions regarding participation in Massachusetts SARA can be directed to DHE’s SARA Team, but if you have any questions specific to NC-SARA, please visit https://www.nc-sara.org.

How are student complaints filed and processed under Massachusetts SARA?

Students currently living in states outside of Massachusetts that are enrolled in distance education (online) courses or programs offered pursuant to an institution’s participation in Massachusetts SARA may file a SARA complaint with DHE after exhausting the institution’s complaint procedures. The DHE Student Complaint Policy explains how the DHE will forward SARA complaints to Massachusetts SARA institutions in the event that a SARA complaint is filed. DHE is responsible for reporting the number of SARA complaints that are received against each Massachusetts SARA institution on a quarterly basis. If you have any questions, please visit the DHE SARA Complaints page, or contact the DHE SARA Team.

Why are institutions required to submit copies of Disaster Recovery Plans to DHE as part of the Massachusetts SARA initial and renewal applications?

DHE requires institutions to submit copies of Disaster Recovery Plans to ensure that the institution has adequate plans in place to ensure the preservation of student records in the event of institutional closure. These plans must affirm the institution’s commitment to follow both the institution’s accrediting body’s standards for institutional closure (e.g. NECHE’s Considerations When Closing an Institution of Higher Education) and the DHE’s Notice of Closure Guidelines.

The DHE recognizes that each institution is different and may have different or multiple plans, procedures, and/or policies in place that are related to the protection of student records in the event of institutional closure. For example, Disaster Recovery Plans may also exist under other names like Continuity of Operations Plans or Institutional Closure Procedures/Policies. Any form of these plans is acceptable for Massachusetts SARA purposes as long as the copy provided has been incorporated into an existing institutional Disaster Recovery Plan, Continuity of Operations Plan, or Institutional Closure Procedure/Policy. In the alternative, an affirmation in writing from the CEO/President or CAO/Provost of the institution that certain procedures will be followed in accordance with the institution’s accrediting body’s standards for institutional closure and the DHE’s Notice of Closure Guidelines will also be accepted.

Why are institutions required to provide an FTE figure in the Massachusetts SARA initial and renewal applications?

Both the Massachusetts SARA fee and the NC-SARA fee are assessed on an institution’s total full‐time equivalent (FTE) enrollment as submitted to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) each fall as 12‐month FTE enrollment.

What is the Financial Responsibility Composite Score (FRCS)?

The FRCS is a score typically calculated by the United Stated Department of Education (US-DOE) to determine an institution’s financial standing for programs like federal student aid. These scores are available to the public. US-DOE provides calculations of this score to institutions via institutional correspondence and publicly at the URL above to Title IV participating institutions. Because the FRCS Score is the only nationwide metric for analyzing an institution’s financial standing, NC-SARA requires non-public institutions participating in Title IV to report this score on SARA applications to demonstrate institutional financial stability. Public institutions are presumed to be financially stable for the purpose of participation in Massachusetts SARA. In general, institutions with FRCS Scores of 1.5 or above are also presumed to be financially stable for the purpose of participation in Massachusetts SARA. Institutions with an FRCS Score between 1.0 and 1.49 may still apply to participate in Massachusetts SARA but are required to submit additional documentation of financial stability. Even where an institution submits such additional documentation, however, the Commissioner reserves the right to deny eligibility to an institution with an FRCS Score between 1.0 and 1.49 if the institution is not financially stable. (See 610 CMR 12.03(f)(1)). If your institution does participate in Title IV or for any other reason does not have an FRCS Score calculated by US-DOE, please contact us.

What are acceptable forms of documentation for institutional domicile?

Documentation of domicile is required for the DHE to verify the legal name and address of each Massachusetts SARA applicant. Massachusetts public institutions may submit either an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) certification letter (e.g. Form 6166) or a copy of the institution’s enabling statute(s). All other institutions may submit either the first page of the institution’s 990 tax form or the most recent Articles of Amendment filed with the Massachusetts Secretary of State.

How do I know if my institution is offering courses or programs that customarily lead to professional licensure, and why does it matter?

Courses or programs leading to professional licensure have special requirements under both NC-SARA Policy and Massachusetts SARA Regulations. (See 610 CMR 12.03(2)). Courses or programs that customarily lead to professional licensure are typically required as prerequisites in a student’s pursuit of a professional license from a governmental licensing entity. Some examples of programs that customarily lead to professional licensure are nursing and education programs, both of which require students to sit for professional licensure exams prior to practicing as a nurse or teacher in a certain jurisdiction.

If the course or program an institution aspires to offer online to out-of-state students customarily leads to professional licensure, the institution is required to notify students whether or not the course or program meets the professional licensure requirements of the student’s home state. If an institution has not confirmed whether or not its courses or programs have met the requirements of a student’s home state, then at an absolute minimum the institution should provide contact information for someone at the institution capable of answering questions related to professional licensure.

Please also keep in mind that some states have additional legal and regulatory requirements for courses or programs that customarily lead to professional licensure that are not superseded by an institution’s participation in Massachusetts SARA. In some states, Massachusetts SARA institutions will still need additional approvals from governmental licensing entities outside of Massachusetts prior to offering courses or programs to residents outside of Massachusetts. Institutions are urged to reach out to other states’ licensing entities prior to offering courses or programs that customarily lead to professional licensure to residents outside of Massachusetts to avoid any disruptions in delivery of distance (online) education to out-of-state students enrolled pursuant to participation in Massachusetts SARA.

NC-SARA has additional information regarding professional licensure here:


Resources

Application Prep Checklists

These checklists provide a list of the documents required for submission of the Massachusetts SARA Initial/Renewal applications—they can be used as a tool to assemble institutional materials prior to uploading the application.

Example Materials

Who should I contact about Massachusetts SARA?

The DHE’s SARA team can be reached via phone at 617-994-6910 and by email at SARAInquiries@dhe.mass.edu.

Note: all application materials should be submitted via the online applicationPlease do not mail Massachusetts SARA institutional applications to the DHE.

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