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State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA) 

South Carolina participates in the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA). The South Carolina Commission on Higher Education serves as the state’s portal agency for SARA and is the final authority for SARA-related complaints. If an out-of-state student enrolled in an SC institution via distance education wishes to file a complaint, he or she may complete and submit the Commission’s complaint form


Guidelines for Filing a Student Complaint 

In absence of mitigating circumstances, students must submit a complaint to the Commission within two calendar years of exhausting the appeals process at the institution. 

Step 1: If a student has concerns related to classroom situations or administrative actions, he/she should contact the faculty or staff member(s) with whom he/she has a conflict. It may be possible to resolve the concerns without the need for formal institutional action. However, if the student’s complaint is not resolved satisfactorily, or if the complaint cannot be resolved by contacting the faculty or staff member(s), the student should proceed to Step 2. 

Step 2: The student should file a complaint through the institution’s grievance procedure. Information about the process can be found on page 50 in the student handbook. USC Aiken also has an Ombuds to provide guidance or to assist in finding a resolution to the matter. If the student is still unable to resolve the complaint, the student should proceed to Step 3. 

Step 3: Investigate to where assistance may be available from other entities:

Program Type Available Resource

Nursing

Students enrolled in nursing licensure programs should contact the SC Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation, Board of Nursing

Distance Learning

Students enrolled in distance learning programs should contact the state authorization agency in the home state of the institution. Each institution includes state authorization information on its website. 

Discrimination

If a student believes that an institution has acted in a discriminatory manner, he or she may wish to contact the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission or the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights

Disabilities Accommodation

If a student believes that an institution has not complied with the requirements of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 or Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability, contact the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights

SC Financial Aid

If a student has been denied South Carolina state-based financial aid, he or she may file an appeal with the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education, Division of Student Affairs

Federal Financial Aid

For student issues related to federal financial aid, contact the Ombudsman Group of the U.S. Department of Education for disputes related to Direct Loans, Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program loans, Guaranteed Student Loans, and Perkins Loans. 

The Office of the Inspector General

The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) is charged with investigating and detecting fraud, waste, abuse, mismanagement, misconduct, or violations of state or federal law, and wrongdoing in the Executive Branch. OIG only has investigative authority over the Executive Branch of South Carolina State Government, which includes state-supported colleges and universities. 

Step 4: If the complaint cannot be resolved through the above channels, the student may file a complaint with the Commission. Complete and submit the Commission’s complaint form

Commission Procedures for Reviewing a Student Complaint 

  • After receiving a complaint, Commission staff will review the submitted materials, and contact the complainant for any required additional information or clarifications. 
  • The Commission staff will then send a copy of the complaint to the institution against which the complaint has been filed and request a response, due within 30 calendar days. 
  • After receiving the response, Commission staff will determine whether the institution’s complaint process has been followed and exhausted and what additional steps or follow-up may be taken. The Commission may outsource the investigation to another government agency. 
  • If it is concluded that the allegations do not establish a violation of standards or any serious deviation of educational standards imposed by the Commission, a letter is sent to the complainant confirming this, along with a copy of the institution’s response. 
  • If it appears that a standard has been violated or that the institution has not complied with the institution’s established policies, staff will attempt a settlement through mediation. 
  • If there is evidence that the institution may no longer be maintaining minimum standards, an investigation may be made to determine other actions. 
  • Results of the investigation are sent to both the complainant and institution. 

Mail the complaint and required documentation to: 

SC Commission on Higher Education 
Academic Affairs 
Attn: Student Complaint 
1122 Lady Street, Suite 300 
Columbia, SC 29201 

You may also e-mail your complaint and documentation to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

View Complaint Form


Disclaimer Information 

The SC Commission on Higher Education responds to formal complaints from students against public, independent non-profit and proprietary institutions of higher education in South Carolina. The SC Commission on Higher Education has limited authority over public colleges and universities and cannot offer legal advice or initiate court proceedings. The Commission may not review student complaints in the following situations:

  • Where the complainant has retained legal counsel or legal action. 
  • Where the complaint is related to course grades, academic sanctions, or discipline/conduct matters unless the student can prove that the institution did not comply with its policies and procedures for appeal. 
  • Where another governmental agency has a process or jurisdiction to mediate the complaint. 
  • If the complaint was submitted to the Commission anonymously.