Online Education

State Authorization

What is State Authorization?

State authorization is a legal issue regarding an educational institution’s adherence to the requirements necessary to secure authorization to offer instruction and other educational endeavors outside of their home state. Every state has the authority to regulate which postsecondary institutions offer education within its boundaries, including online programs and courses. State authorization compliance is a federal regulatory program (Higher Education Act of 2008, Amended 2010) that requires all institutions of higher education, as a condition of receiving funding for federal financial aid, to be authorized in and by each state in which they offer educational activities. The need to seek state authorization for educational activities depends on a combination of each state’s laws and the activities that a course, program or institution is conducting in that state. Educational activities include, but are not limited to:

  • Advertising
  • Clinical Placements
  • Distance Education Programs
  • Externships
  • Faculty Residing Outside North Carolina
  • Internships
  • Marketing
  • Non-Classroom Experiences
  • Online Degrees & Courses
  • Practica
  • Proctoring
  • Professional Licensure
  • Recruiting
  • State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA)

    The State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA) is an agreement among member states, districts, and territories in the United States, which establishes comparable national standards for interstate offering of postsecondary distance education courses and programs and other interstate educational activities inlcuding but not limited to uniform physical presence triggers and oversight of ground activities for both DE and campus students. It is intended to simplify the process of taking online courses for credit offered by postsecondary institutions based in another state. SARA is a voluntary, regional approach to state oversight of postsecondary distance education and is overseen by a national council (NC-SARA) and administered by four regional education compacts. North Carolina has been accepted as a member state of SARA, through the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB).

    The State of North Carolina is a member-state in the SARA compact, and UNC Wilmington is a participating institution in this agreement. As a result, students who live in other states that are also participating under SARA can take distance-based courses at the UNC Wilmington and be assured that those courses will be recognized by their state’s higher education agency. While participating in SARA, UNC Wilmington also continues to monitor rules enforced by state boards that regulate distance-based nursing education across the country.

    Currently, California is the only non-SARA state; however, UNC Wilmington offers distance programs in the non-SARA state of California pursuant to state exemptions.

  • Contact Information for Filing Complaints

    Federal regulations require UNCW to provide current and prospective students with the contact information for filing complaints with the educational institution, with its accrediting agency, and with the state agencies that handle complaints in students’ states of residence.

    UNCW remains committed to providing learning environments in which complaints are responded to promptly and with minimum distress and maximum protection to the parties. To that end, students are encouraged to utilize the following process for resolving student complaints at the University.

  • UNCW Policies and Procedures

    UNCW provides several means by which student complaints and grievances may be addressed. In all cases, students are advised to put their concerns in writing and carefully document the events that led to the complaint or grievance. Students are advised to contact the Dean of Students Office for advice on which procedure to follow. Concerns should be expressed as soon as possible after the event occurs; some of the procedures below have specific deadlines for filing grievances or complaints.

    If a complaint cannot be resolved after exhausting UNCW's procedure described above, the student may file a complaint with the following agencies:

    1. North Carolina Post-Secondary Education Complaints Unit in accordance with the process and form for complaints and at the following. You may also contact UNC General Administration for further details.

    • North Carolina Post-Secondary Education Complaints
    • c/o Student Complaints
    • University of North Carolina General Administration
    • 910 Raleigh Road
    • Chapel Hill, NC 27515-2688
    • 919-962-4550
    • email:

    2. Regional Accreditor (SACSCOC), SACSCOC Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, Student Complaints, 1866 Southern Lane, Decatur, GA 30033-4097 Telephone 404.679.4500. If a student has evidence that an institution is in significant non-compliance with SACSCOC standards, policies, or procedures, the individual should inform SACSCOC using the Complaints Against Institutions Information Sheet and Form.

    3. Students engaged in online learning, residing outside of North Carolina while attending UNCW, who followed the above Complaint Resolution process but whose initial complaint was not resolved to their satisfaction may also appeal to the post-secondary licensing agency in the state in which they reside. As required by federal regulations, we direct you to UNCW's list of state agencies for filing student complaints.

    4. Students not residing in North Carolina and enrolled in a North Carolina institution that operates under SARA North Carolina may submit complaints to NCSEAA only after completing the complaint process established by the institution attended by the student. We direct you to SARA-North Carolina and to the Complaint Process page and SARANC Complaint Form.

    • SARA North Carolina - North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority (NCSEAA)
    • P.O. Box 14103
    • Research Triangle Park, NC 27709
    • T: (855) SARA-1-NC (727-2162) T: (919)549-8614, ext 4667