Alaska & WICHE
Working Together for Over a Half Century

  • Since 1955 Alaska has been a member of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE), a 16-state commission working to boost access to higher education for students in the West and, as importantly, to ensure their success.

    In the five-plus decades since Alaska joined the commission, the state has benefitted in a number of essential ways.

    > Thousands of students from Alaska have attended undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs in other Western states through WICHE’s Student Exchange Program, saving millions of dollars, thanks to reduced tuition rates. In just one of the programs, the Western Undergraduate Exchange, Alaska students and their families have saved more than $178 million since 1988, when the program was founded. (See “Doing the Math,” below, for Alaska’s return on investment.)

    > Alaska has received funding to be part of numerous WICHE policy initiatives, including those focused on financing and financial aid, workforce policy, and other areas.

    > Alaska has participated in WICHE initiatives related to distance education, workforce development, and behavioral health.

    WICHE and Alaska have shared a remarkably fruitful history. But their prospects for the future are even more exciting.

    Doing the Math: Alaska's Return on Investment

    In 2013-14 Alaska, its institutions, and its students saved or brought in $11.7 million through WICHE and spent $131,000 for membership in the commission, yielding an 89-fold return on investment.

    In the last 5 years, Alaska students’ savings from WUE alone have added up to $60 million, yielding a 95-fold return on the state’s investment in WICHE.

    State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA). A new initiative, SARA addresses the critical topic of postsecondary distance education regulation. Funded by a $3 million Lumina Foundation grant, SARA is a national initiative spearheaded by the National Council for SARA, the Midwestern Higher Education Compact, the New England Board of Higher Education, the Southern Regional Education Board, and WICHE. In an era when students can take online courses from institutions based all over the country, states have been faced with the challenging task of authorizing all out-of-state institutions offering online courses to their students, while institutions have often had to pay substantial fees to the many states in which they operate. SARA offers a cost-effective, efficient, straightforward framework for authorization that institutions, states, and students can trust. The National SARA Council, housed at WICHE, coordinates SARA's work across the four regional compacts.

    Alaska is active in all three WICHE Student Exchange Programs: the Western Undergraduate Exchange, the Professional Student Exchange Program, and the Western Regional Graduate Program. In 2013-14 Alaska’s students and families saved $11.7 million. Alaska saved money, too, through not having to establish and maintain costly programs in a number of areas, including some in healthcare.

    Western Undergraduate Exchange. Alaska students have enrolled in undergraduate programs beyond Alaska’s borders through the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE) since 1988. In 2013-14, 1,355 students from Alaska are enrolled in out-of-state programs at reduced rates (150 percent of resident tuition), saving more than $11 million in tuition and fees – the average student savings amounted to $8,119. In the last 10 years, students have saved nearly $116 million.

    Alaska benefits from WUE in another way: by receiving students from out of state. Alaska’s institutions can choose how many out-of-state slots to offer and in which areas, allowing them to make the best use of their resources by accepting students in underenrolled programs. There’s a workforce benefit for the state, too, as students often stay in Alaska after graduating. In 2013-14 Alaska received 587 students through WUE.

    Professional Student Exchange Program. Alaska has sent over 1,236 students to professional programs through the Professional Student Exchange Program (PSEP), with students studying in a host of critical fields, including dentistry, occupational therapy, optometry, pharmacy, physical therapy, physician assistant, and podiatry. Historically, some 59 percent of PSEP students return to Alaska to pursue their professional careers.

    Western Regional Graduate Program. Alaska’s postgraduates also participate in graduate programs through the Western Regional Graduate Program (WRGP), which offers access to over 314 high-quality, distinctive programs (“distinctive” meaning they’re offered at only four or fewer institutions in the WICHE region) at 56 institutions in all WICHE states. WRGP programs run the gamut, but emerging social, environmental, and resource-management fields and innovative interdisciplinary programs are particular strengths. In 2013-14 Alaska sent 33 students to out-of-state institutions, while receiving eight.

    The Consortium for Healthcare Education Online (CHEO),  funded (2012-2016) with a $14.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, is making use of the North American Network of Science Labs Online (NANSLO). With WICHE as its hub, NANSLO is an international network of web-based science labs using robotic software to allow students to  conduct science experiments over the Internet. NANSLO opens access to STEM fields for rural and place-bound students by making it possible for them to participate in lab courses remotely. Kodiak College is one of eight CHEO partner institutions in five states that are developing allied health certificates in a hybrid or online format along with academic support and employment services.

    WICHE’s Added Value

    Alaska gains added value from WICHE’s programs in policy, workforce development, technology, mental health, and other areas.

    Policy & Workforce Development. Alaska participates in the College Access Challenge Grant, in which WICHE assists the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education (ACPE) with a near-peer mentoring program: since 2009 recent University of Alaska graduates have worked with over 3,000 students at high schools in the Anchorage School District and the remote Lower Kuskokwim School District in activities ranging from career exploration to postsecondary preparation and the college application process. Data indicate the program has boosted the number of students who’ve been admitted to (or plan on attending) a postsecondary institution and the number who’ve taken the ACT or SAT and filled out the FAFSA. WICHE also helped expand the program into Fairbanks, North Pole, the Kenai Peninsula, and Kodiak Island.

    WICHE supported Alaska’s efforts to develop a statewide longitudinal data system (SLDS), both with its own resources and through grant-supported projects and contract work. Alaska participated in a meeting that brought together the stewards of the data systems in 14 WICHE states for discussions around linking education and workforce data longitudinally. WICHE also facilitated a meeting of key state officials in Anchorage that aided in accelerating Alaska’s SLDS development efforts and prepared a report based on interviews with state agency personnel, including recommendations addressing the design and function of SLDS for Alaska. WICHE helped Alaska secure technical assistance from federal Department of Education (at no cost to the state) and facilitated a 2010 retreat at our facilities for state officials integrally involved in SLDS development and consultants supplied by the federal government. WICHE’s work also contributed directly to the applications Alaska submitted for the last two SLDS competitions the federal government conducted.

    WICHE prepared detailed cost projections for a version of a state need-based grant program. WICHE President David Longanecker met with the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education to discuss strategic planning for higher education and the possibility of developing a state student aid program, as well as testifying before the Senate Education Committee on student aid.

    The Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education, University of Alaska Anchorage, University of Alaska Southeast, and the University of Alaska System belong to the Western Academic Leadership Forum, whose members address regional higher education issues and engage in cooperative resource sharing. The Forum held its 2009 annual meeting at the University of Alaska Anchorage. The Western Alliance for Community College Academic Leaders brings academic leaders of community colleges and technical schools and systems together with state governing and coordinating boards associated with two-year institutions to exchange ideas, share resources, and collaborate on regional initiatives. The University of Alaska Fairbanks, University of Alaska Fairbanks–Bristol Bay, Chukchi Campus, Interior-Aleutians Campus, Kuskokwim Campus, and Northwest Campus; and University of Alaska Fairbanks Community and Technical College are members.

    Technology. Alaska has been very active in the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET), a national membership organization that advances access and excellence in higher education through the innovative use of technology. The University of Alaska’s institutions have benefitted from WCET’s focus on federal distance education regulations, with WCET helping member institutions understand how to respond to regulations regarding issues such as student authentication, financial aid last-day-of-attendance, and state approval of distance education institutions.

    WCET members have access to trusted information on emerging trends, policies, and exemplars of successful learning technology innovation in practice. Key WCET activities include an annual meeting, leadership summits, national webcasts, and listserv-based discussions among members. Major focus areas include state authorization, academic integrity and student authentication, competency-based education and alternative credentials, analytics in higher education, and emerging technologies.

    Mental Health. WICHE’s Mental Health Program has worked with Alaska on a wide range of initiatives. It led the development of the pioneering Alaska Psychology Internship Consortium, a partnership between five training sites that focuses on rural and indigenous people that is accredited by the American Psychology Association (APA). Alaska did not have an APA-accredited internship program, and this project allows University of Alaska psychology doctoral students to complete their training within the state.  WICHE is also providing technical assistance to improve the application of a “person-centered” treatment planning and discharge process within a short-term, acute care inpatient framework for involuntary committed adults at the Alaska Psychiatric Institute.

    Through a multiyear project that focused on improving the skills of direct care workers via the development of core competencies, WICHE helped develop the Alaskan Core Competencies, along with a standardized curriculum and tools to assess worker skills. In addition, two Alaska higher education campuses participated in a research study, funded by the National Institute for Mental Health, that focused on campus mental health and the effects of mental health first aid training for campus residence life staff.

    WICHE has provided support to the Alaska Division of Behavioral Health on the use of data to inform decisions. Data sources have been developed and implemented for performance indicators on access, outcomes, and appropriateness of services. WICHE staff has also led several evaluation studies in Alaska, including systems-level and individual program evaluations utilizing multimethod approaches to provide information to funders on the viability of program structure and progress toward goals.

    Other Initiatives. Another initiative, the Master Property Program (MPP), helps institutions reduce their insurance premiums and improve their coverage. Created by the Midwestern Higher Education Compact (MHEC) and expanded to the WICHE region, the MPP includes more than 150 campuses with total insured values of over $100 billion. WICHE is also partnering with MHEC to offer MHECare, a new health program providing vetted, competitively priced medical benefits for students. Underwritten by UnitedHealthcare StudentResources, MHECare offers a variety of plans. The Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses of the University of Alaska participate in MHECare. In a third collaboration with MHEC, WICHE extends the benefits of MHECtech to colleges and universities in the West enabling them to purchase off competitively bid purchaing agreements to reduce costs on a range of hardware and software products and services.