AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine college students will soon have seamless access to hundreds of higher education courses in 35 states thanks to a new program to which the state has just been accepted.

The New England Board of Higher Education announced Monday that Maine has been accepted to the New England State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (N-SARA). Here are the details:

What is SARA?

SARA is a 36-state coalition through which colleges and universities, as well as individual students, can access courses at institutions in other participating states. Reciprocally, Maine institutions also will be allowed to share their online offerings in other states in the coalition. Maine passed a law earlier this year to allow the state’s application to the coalition.

There are about 500 higher education institutions participating in the program nationally.

How will it work?

Students will still have to go through the admissions process at the college or university of their choice, but the new coalition eliminates barriers and paperwork that in the past have made taking online courses in another state onerous. Students can use the online courses to supplement their education at a Maine institution or take the courses independently.

“What it comes down to is that Maine students will have more options to look at more courses online than before,” said Angel Loredo, the Maine Department of Education’s higher education specialist. “This removes an enormous amount of red tape.”

How is it funded?

SARA is funded by a $3 million grant from Lumina Foundation and $200,000 from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Participating institutions pay annual fees of between $2,000 and $6,000, depending on how many participating students they have. Participation in the program is voluntary at the institutional and individual levels.

Who will participate?

The next step is for Maine colleges and universities to apply to the Maine Department of Education for entrance into the program. Applications will start to be collected on Tuesday.

Loredo said he expects most or all of Maine’s public and private colleges and universities that offer online courses to apply.

He said he is unsure how many students will participate but is confident the number will grow over time.

“I would venture to say that I will be receiving a lot of phone calls from students who are interested in participating,” he said.

How do Mainers become involved?

— Loredo invited interested Mainers to call him at 624-6846.

— The Maine Department of Education has a host of information available on its website.

— The National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements has extensive resources available on its website.

— Students can request information from the college or university of their choice, as long as the institution is within a SARA state. For those states and the participating institutions within them, visit

What education officials are saying

Bill Beardsley, acting commissioner of the Maine Department of Education:

“SARA facilitates Maine’s interface with education opportunities across the country while bypassing the old case-by-case, burdensome course-approval system. Maine students benefit, and state red tape is minimized with no loss of accountability. It is a state consortium approach we value.”

Rosa Redonnett, chief student affairs officer of the University of Maine System:

“The agreement streamlines the process across the board and will save money for the state, the system and our students while improving the accessibility of our programs. Maine universities with plans to expand the reach of their academic programing will have an easier path now that Maine is part of SARA.”

Michael K. Thomas, president and CEO of the New England Board of Higher Education:

“Maine and its postsecondary institutions have long been leaders in distance learning. The states’ participation in SARA further signal their ongoing role in defining the path of high-quality learning for the nation.”

Marshall A. Hill, executive director of NC-SARA:

“It’s great to welcome Maine as an additional SARA state in New England, joining many others around the country. We’re very pleased that the benefits SARA offers will be more widely available to students, states and institutions.”

Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.