March 1, 2022
Patrick Wilson, the director of Online & Extended Learning, has been selected to serve on the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements, also known as the NC-SARA Institution Advisory Committee. In this role, Wilson hopes to acquire a deeper understanding of how to best serve students in New Mexico.
Wilson said federal laws govern states’ authority in regulating education within the borders of each state, but NC-SARA facilitates state reciprocity agreements that allow institutions in one state to offer education to students who live in another state. All states except for California participate in this agreement.
He said the agreement also excludes degree-programs leading to licensure, such as nursing degrees, but overall, the reciprocity agreement makes it easier for students in all 49 participating states to enroll in online coursework anywhere and transfer those credits to their home institutions.
According to Wilson, being asked to serve on the NC-SARA advisory committee is an opportunity to give New Mexico Highlands University national exposure in online education.
“It’s an honor for Highlands to get to voice our thinking and our concerns about state reciprocity at the national level,” said Wilson.
Wilson said compared with many other states, students in New Mexico tend to be high consumers of online education, but more research needs to be done to determine whether New Mexico residents are seeking out online education within the state or externally. He said NC-SARA compiles data about online education that will provide helpful insight into the schools New Mexicans are choosing, and why.
“In a more granular way, it will help Highlands to fine tune what we’re offering to make sure we’re meeting the needs of students in New Mexico,” said Wilson. “It behooves us to try and keep that student here in New Mexico if we can, and the same is true for online education.”
As a representative from a small state school, Wilson said his goal on the Committee is to represent the needs and concerns of smaller institutions at the national level.
“Part of the concern is competing programs and understanding the market better, and NC-SARA gives us the opportunity to look at that through their data collection,” said Wilson. “Despite all of the marketing and the fact that there are some huge players in online education, in general, students still have a high preference for their local provider, which is what makes it possible for Highlands to compete with bigger schools.”
Prior to the pandemic, Highlands began offering several programs that could be completed fully online, such as a master’s degree in social work and a master’s degree in business administration. According to Wilson, increased comfort with online education due to the pandemic may result in more offerings in the future.
Wilson said that while not all students are suited to online education, the pandemic has pushed a lot of students to try it. He said some students who may not have tried it have discovered that they like the flexibility online education can provide.
“At the end of the day, it boils down to access. If we can offer more ways to access higher education, then we’re going to have more students,” said Wilson. “Online is another way to access higher ed, and if we can do it in a way that faculty and students are comfortable with, and we know that we’re delivering a high-quality education that meets Highlands’s standards, then let’s do it.”
For students with full-time jobs, families, and other responsibilities, online education provides a path to earning a degree and securing higher paying employment.
“That is very much in keeping with Highlands’s history of making higher education available to folks who historically haven’t been able to access higher ed,” said Wilson.
Wilson said he participates regularly in discussions with other online educators from around New Mexico and he said he hopes to bring his colleagues concerns to the table in his NC-SARA Committee discussions. Wilson said he also hopes to further investigate why students are pursuing online education in other states so that Highlands can look at ways to keep students in New Mexico.
“It’s a great opportunity to learn more about what’s going on at the national level and a good opportunity to get Highlands’s name on the national stage,” said Wilson.