This site is best viewed in Firefox, Chrome, Safari, or EdgeX

Documenting Attendance in Online Learning Courses

Changes to federal financial aid regulations in recent years have highlighted the importance of accurate reporting on student attendance and participation in all courses, including online courses. To stay in compliance with federal financial aid regulations, the college is providing the following procedural guidance for faculty filling out non-participation rosters for Online Learning courses.

To quote from the Federal Student Aid Handbook

“In an online learning context, documenting that a student has logged into an online class is not sufficient, by itself, to demonstrate academic attendance by the student. A school must demonstrate that a student participated in class or was otherwise engaged in an academically related activity, such as by contributing to an online discussion or initiating contact with a faculty member to ask a course-related question.” FSA Handbook, Volume 5, Chapter 2, 5-60.

For practical purposes, this means that a student needs to more than merely logging into an online course (without showing any other kind of active participation) to be considered in academic attendance. Given the wide range of approaches used to teach online courses, monitor student activity, and assess student performance, individual faculty members are best positioned to determine whether their students are in attendance in a online learning course. However, to stay in compliance with federal financial aid regulations, that determination must consist of something more than a student just logging in and out of a course.

For more information on academic policies and procedures, visit the General Policies page.

Student Verification in Online Learning

The Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) requires institutions that offer credit bearing online learning courses verify that the student who registers for an online learning course or program is the same student who participates in and completes the course or program and receives academic credit. According to the HEOA, one or more of the following methods must be used:

  1. An individual secure login and password,
  2. Proctored examinations, and/or
  3. Other technologies or practices that are effective in verifying student identification.

All methods of verifying student identity in online learning must protect the privacy of student information. If any fees associated with the verification of student identity is charged to students, they must be notified of these charges in writing at the time of registration or enrollment.

Each NECC student is assigned a unique student identification number and password to log in to the portal and email systems. Accounts are for individual use only, and are not transferable or to be used by any other individual. Students using the NECC email system do so as set forth by the NECC College Policies.

State Authorization for Online Learning

Northern Essex Community College participates in the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA). SARA is an agreement among member states, districts, and territories of the United States. It establishes national standards for the interstate offering of distance education courses and programs. It simplifies the process of taking online classes at an institution of higher education based in another state.

The New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE) is one of four regional education compacts and is the compact for the Northeast region. In 2018, NEBHE approved the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ application to become a member state in SARA. In Massachusetts, the SARA State Portal Entity agency which administers SARA for institutions located in Massachusetts is the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education (DHE). In addition to the oversight provided locally by DHE and regionally by NEBHE, a national council (NC-SARA) also oversees SARA and the regional compacts.

Northern Essex Community College (NECC) was approved by the DHE to participate in SARA, and became a SARA member institution in July 2018. At this time, only California is not a member state. If you reside in California and are interested in taking an online class at NECC, please contact the Director of Online Education at


NECC is required to provide current and prospective online learning students with contact information for filing complaints. Students who desire to resolve a grievance should follow the College’s Student Grievance Procedure as outlined in the NECC Student Code of Conduct and Grievance.

For Massachusetts Residents and Online Students in Non-SARA Member States and Territories

After you have exhausted the complaint procedures made available by Northern Essex Community College (NECC) initiated here through the Student Grievance Procedure Intake Form, if your complaint has not been resolved, you may file a consumer complaint with the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education by using the consumer complaint form. The DHE consumer complaint form should be used by students who are located in:

  • Massachusetts
  • Non-SARA Member States or Territories (e.g., California, Guam, etc.)

For Online Students Located in SARA Member States and Territories

After you have exhausted the complaint procedures made available by Northern Essex Community College, located initiated here through the Student Grievance Procedure Intake Form, if your complaint has not been resolved, you may file a complaint with the DHE by using the SARA complaint form. The DHE SARA complaint form should be used by students who are located in SARA member states and territories. This includes all students who are located in SARA member states and territories for the purposes of completing out-of-state learning placements, such as internships, practica, clinical experiences, etc. in SARA member states and territories outside Massachusetts.

Additional information from the DHE’s SARA complaint website is below:

The SARA complaint process is as follows:

  1. Students must first attempt to resolve their complaint using internal administrative procedures offered by the SARA institution.
  2. After all administrative remedies have been exhausted with the MA-SARA institution, the student may submit a SARA Complaint via the URL below.
  3. The Department shall send a copy of the complaint to the institution that is the subject of the complaint;
  4. Within 30 days of the date that the Department sends a copy of the complaint to the institution, the institution must provide a written response to the student and the Department.

More information about DHE’s complaint processes can be found here (PDF).

The SARA portal agency in the student’s state of residence will be notified of any complaint filed with the Massachusetts portal agency. The student’s home state may assist the Massachusetts portal agency as needed. The complaint resolution by the Massachusetts portal agency is final and cannot be appealed to another state or federal agency or to NC-SARA.


The official learning management system at NECC is Blackboard Learn 9.1, Service Pack 14. Information about Blackboard’s efforts on meeting accessibility standards is available on their Blackboard resources page and also in their Accessibility Features help section. Online or web-enhanced math courses may use Pearson’s MyLab platform. The MyMathLab Accessibility Information page provides a list of supported assistive technologies, and Quick Start Instructions (PDF) on using MyMathLab with the JAWS Screen Reader.

For questions about accessibility options or to report a problem, please contact

Copyright Compliance and Intellectual Property

It is the policy of Northern Essex Community College to acknowledge and abide by all applicable intellectual property laws, including but not limited federal copyright law, Title 17 of the U.S. Code as amended at .3 The College expects that all individuals employed at the College, enrolled at the College, and/or using the facilities or resources of the College (“Covered Individuals”) shall do the same. Please visit NECC’s Copyright and Intellectual Property polices for information.

With regard to Online Learning, the College will apply measures to protect against unauthorized access (e.g. limiting transmission to students enrolled in a particular course) and requires that only lawfully acquired copies of copyrighted works are used.

Note: In registering for courses or accepting admission into Northern Essex Community College, each student assumes responsibility for knowledge of and compliance with the definitions, regulations, and procedures of NECC pertaining to his or her student status as set forth in the NECC Online Learning website, publications, and catalog.

Print View