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Attorney General Nessel Joins Bipartisan Coalition Urging Stronger Policies for Protecting Students

LANSING - Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel today joined a bipartisan coalition of 25 attorneys general in a letter to the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA) urging it to institute stronger consumer protection policies for the more than 3 million students enrolled in distance education courses offered by its 2,276 participating institutions. 

NC-SARA provides leadership over reciprocity agreements joined by 49 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, and it controls the minimum standards and policies to which participating institutions must adhere. Currently, Michigan's membership in NC-SARA allows participating institutions of higher education physically located in other states the ability to enroll students living in Michigan in online programs without having to comply with Michigan's licensure and approval process. While this provides Michigan students with educational opportunities , it is important that Michigan is able to enforce consumer protection laws to protect its residents.  

The attorneys general, citing examples of misconduct by schools participating in NC-SARA, express concerns that NC-SARA's current policies do not adequately protect students against the unique risks that arise from distance learning, including unfair and deceptive admissions and financial aid practices. The attorneys general recommend NC-SARA improve its policies to provide critical student protections, including: 

  1. Removing language in its Policy Manual that prohibits states from enforcing their higher education consumer protection laws and instituting meaningful consumer protection standards that participating schools must follow; 
  2. Improving its procedures to protect current and prospective students at institutions with issues related to consumer protection or financial stability; and 
  3. Reconstituting its board of directors so that at least a majority of its membership is reserved for member states and territories and additional individuals with consumer protection expertise, such as state attorneys general. 

"My colleagues and I call on NC-SARA to make several changes that will benefit the students in its member states-including Michigan. The proposed changes will allow us to more effectively protect those enrolled in distanced learning at one of NC-SARA's participating institutions. While we want our students to have options, we must ensure there are adequate safeguards in place to protect students from unscrupulous practices," Nessel said.  

Joining Attorney General Nessel in today's letter are the attorneys general of Maryland, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin. 

A copy of the attorneys general's letter to NC-SARA is available here.