State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement: Complaints

Distance Learning Education – State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement

On August 25, 2016, UW institutions were approved as participants in the National Council – State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA) which allows institutions to provide online distance learning to students who reside in other states without having to obtain that state’s authorization.  Rather, institutions must abide by the SARA Terms and Conditions and obtain approval each year to remain a part of SARA.  Part of SARA’s requirements include the creation of a complaint process in accordance with Wis. Stats. Ch. 39.85, et. al.  This state law provides that any current or former student who is enrolled in an online distance education program with an institution that has been approved to offer distance education programs pursuant to the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA) may file a complaint against the institution. This complaint process shall only apply to the distance education activity of the institution which is conducted across state lines. No other complaints shall be considered by the Distance Learning Authorization Board (DLAB). However, other resolution options may be available to the complainant as noted below.

For purposes of this process, a complaint shall be defined as a formal assertion in writing that the terms of this agreement, or of laws, standards or regulations incorporated by the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements Policies and Standards (SARA Policies and Standards) are being violated by a person, institution, state, agency or other organization or entity operating under the terms of SARA.  If you believe you have a complaint or dispute that fits under the terms of SARA, please complete the online form and submit it within the time frames provided.  There are also FAQs to assist you in answering any questions you may have about the DLAB complaint process.

To file a complaint, please click here or you may send an email to

For additional information about the Wisconsin Distance Learning Authorization Board, please go here.

For the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement, please click here.

Program Integrity Rule: Complaints


UW System Student Complaint Process Information

Pursuant to the United States Department of Education’s Program Integrity Rule, an individual may file a complaint against any of University of Wisconsin System’s public institutions alleging a violation of one or more of the following categories:

  • Complaints that allege a violation of state consumer protection laws that include but are not limited to fraud and false advertising;
  • Complaints that allege a violation of state law or rule relating to the licensure of postsecondary institutions; and/or
  • Complaints relating to the quality of education or other State or accreditation requirements.

Under the University of Wisconsin System Administration (UWSA) policies and procedures, an individual should utilize the institution’s internal complaint or review policies and procedures through the Office for Student Affairs or Office of the Provost prior to contacting UWSA. If a resolution is not reached at the institution level, or if you believe that the nature of the complaint or its impact on the system as a whole warrants an immediate review, please contact Academic Programs and Educational Innovation (APEI) at or call 608.262.8778.


Complaint Process

Any individual who reasonably believes that a violation of one or more of the Program Integrity categories has occurred may file a written complaint with the University of Wisconsin System Administration in the following manner:

  1. Within one (1) calendar year from the date of the alleged violation or the last recorded date of the affected student’s attendance at the affected institution, whichever is later, and after exhausting all reasonable avenues available to the student through their institution’s internal complaint or review policies and procedures ( please see Section I) the individual (“complainant”) shall submit a written statement to the University of Wisconsin System Administration - Department of Academic Programs and Educational Innovation (APEI) which summarizes the alleged violation of the institution and/or its representatives. This statement shall include, at minimum, a detailed statement of the nature of the incident(s) in question, any monies owed or balances due to the institution, names and titles of faculty, staff or students who are involved in the incident(s), documentation of records relating to the complaint and any other documentation that may assist in APEI’s factual determination of the merits of the complaint. The complainant shall also state what, if any, remedy is sought. The complainant shall check the box affirming the truth and accuracy of the complaint.
  2. The complainant shall check the box affirming that the complainant consents to APEI and/or the institution’s disclosure of any protected or confidential information that may pertain to the complaint for the purpose of review, investigation, and/or resolution of this matter.
  3. The complainant shall agree to be available for additional information and/or questions from APEI in order to properly review the complaint. If the complainant fails to provide requested information to APEI as a part of this process, APEI may unilaterally dismiss the complaint on the grounds that the complainant has refused to willingly participate in the complaint review process.
  4. If the complainant has filed an external complaint or grievance with an external state agency prior or during the filing of a complaint under this review process, the complainant shall notify APEI in order to avoid a duplication of the investigative process regarding a same or similar complaint with another state agency.
  5. Anonymous complaints shall not be considered valid complaints under this complaint review process and should be referred back to the affected institution for further consideration in accordance with campus policies and procedures.
  6. It should be noted that state law may also provide for the public disclosure of any existing record or document that is a part of the complaint review process under the Wisconsin Open Records Law, Wis. Stats. 19.31, unless specifically exempt from disclosure by law.

APEI shall do the following:

  1.  APEI shall provide the affected institution's provost with a copy of the complaint within 15 business days of its receipt
  2. If the individual has not notified the applicable institution of the alleged events that lead up to the complaint, APEI may, at its discretion, refer the complaint back to the institution for further review and consideration under its applicable institutional policies and procedures. Upon the completion of the institution’s review, complaint or grievance process, if the complainant remains interested in pursuing his or her complaint under this complaint review process, the complainant needs to submit a new formal complaint to APEI.
  3. Upon receipt of a complaint or allegations that has not been reviewed by the institution as required above,  APEI may accept and review the complaint without institutional review upon APEI’s determination that the nature of the allegation(s) and/or the impact on the system as a whole warrants an immediate review by the APEI through this complaint process.
  4. No later than 15 business days from the receipt of the complaint, APEI shall conduct an initial review of the allegations contained in the complaint in order to determine whether the complaint meets the category requirements and is timely. If the complaint fails to meet the criteria, APEI may dismiss the complaint and no further action shall be required.   
  5. No later than 30 days after determining that the complaint meets the necessary criteria under program integrity and is timely, APEI shall provide the complainant and the institution with the opportunity to meet in order to reach an informal resolution that is mutually-acceptable to the complainant and the institution.
  6. If no informal resolution is reached, then APEI shall conduct a review and/or investigation into the allegations. This review or investigative process shall be completed within a 90 calendar day period, unless additional time is necessary to properly complete the review or investigation process. APEI may conduct fact-finding during which the complainant and the institution shall be offered an opportunity to submit any relevant and material evidence and information in support their respective positions. Either party may request the presence of a representative during a meeting and/or investigatory interview of the respective party. However, the parties shall be required to speak on their own behalf at all times during this complaint review process. The parties shall be expected to fully cooperate in this review or investigative process. Failure to do so may lead to dismissal of the complaint in its entirety.
  7. No later than 60 calendar days from the conclusion of the review and/or investigative process, the Associate Vice President of APEI shall issue his or her written decision to the complainant and the institution.  The decision may include one or more of the following determinations:
    • That there was insufficient evidence to find that a violation of one or more of the program integrity rule criteria occurred;
    • That the complaint is dismissed due to lack of cooperation or participation on the part of the complainant, untimely filing, or fails to fall within one or more of the required program integrity rule criteria;
    • A recommended course of action for the institution to assure compliance with applicable laws or rules;
    • A directive to the institution and/or any other remedy or resolution that is deemed appropriate and reasonable in response to the alleged violation;
    • A referral of the complaint to another state agency with jurisdiction and authority over the issue; or
    • Any other remedy or action that is deemed appropriate and reasonable.
  8. The decision of  Associate Vice President shall be final and not subject to any further appeal or review by the Board of Regents or the University of Wisconsin System Administration. The complainant may pursue any further claim or complaint through applicable state or federal law.

To access and submit an official PIR Complaint Form to the UW System click here.


UW System Program Integrity Rule Requirements

Summary of Program Integrity Rule: The United States Department of Education has issued regulations titled “Program Integrity Rule” which are intended to address concerns relating to the integrity of programs offered by postsecondary educational institutions and authorized under Title IV of the Higher Education Act (HEA), as amended. The applicable section of the regulations, 34 CFR Part 600.9, requires the state of Wisconsin to establish a complaint process in order to receive, review, and respond to complaints against colleges and universities offering postsecondary education programs.  Requirements under this rule include:

Establishing a Complaint Process for Program Integrity: Pursuant to an Executive Order issued by Governor Scott Walker on June 28, 2011, the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System and/or the University of Wisconsin System Administration are authorized to handle complaints relating to program integrity as described in Section I that involve all of the University of Wisconsin System’s public institutions under the authority and control of the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System as listed in the next section.

Accreditation Agency: Pursuant to Wis. Stats. Ch. 36, the University of Wisconsin System’s public institutions are legally authorized to provide postsecondary education in the state of Wisconsin and are accredited through the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (HLC). The following public institutions are under the authority and control of the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System:

University of Wisconsin-Madison; University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire; University of Wisconsin-Green Bay; University of Wisconsin-La Crosse; University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh; University of Wisconsin-Parkside; University of Wisconsin-Platteville; University of Wisconsin-River Falls; University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point; University of Wisconsin-Stout; University of Wisconsin-Superior; University of Wisconsin-Whitewater; and the University of Wisconsin Colleges located at Baraboo/Sauk County, Barron County, Fond du Lac, Fox Valley, Manitowoc, Marathon County, Marinette, Marshfield/Wood County, Richland, Rock County, Sheboygan, Washington County, and Waukesha.

The University of Wisconsin’s accreditation documents are available through the Higher Learning Commission on its webpage.

State Agencies

State Agencies, Councils or Boards that might have jurisdiction or authority over alleged violations

In the event that APEI determines that the complaint does not fit within the program integrity categories, is untimely or is dismissed on other grounds, the complainant may seek review and /or remedy from one or more of the state agencies below that have jurisdiction or authority over the alleged violation: