Colorado & WICHE
Working Together for Over a Half Century

  • Since 1951 Colorado 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 six-plus decades since Colorado joined the commission, the state has benefitted in a number of essential ways.

    > Tens of thousands of students from Colorado have attended undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs in other Western states through WICHE’s Student Exchange Program. In just one of the programs, the Western Undergraduate Exchange, Colorado students and their families have saved over $190 million since 1988, when the program was founded. (See “Doing the Math,” below, for Colorado’s return on investment.)

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

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

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

    Doing the Math: Colorado's Return on Investment

    In 2013-14 Colorado, its institutions, and its students saved or brought in more than $23.9 million through WICHE and spent $131,000 for membership in the commission, yielding a 182-fold return on investment.

    In the last 5 years, Colorado savings from WUE alone have topped $78.8 million, yielding a 125-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 $2.3 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.

    Colorado 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 Colorado’s students and families saved over $18.8 million. Colorado saved money, too, through not having to establish and maintain costly programs in a number of areas, including some in healthcare.

    Western Undergraduate Exchange. Colorado students have enrolled in undergraduate programs beyond Colorado’s borders through the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE) since 1988. In 2013-14, 2,675 students from Colorado are enrolled in out-of-state programs at reduced rates (150 percent of resident tuition), saving more than $17.4 million in tuition and fees – the average student savings amounted to $6,535. In the last 10 years, students have saved over $143.7 million

    Colorado benefits from WUE in another way: by receiving students from out of state. Colorado’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 Colorado after graduating. In 2013-14 Colorado received 3,786 students through WUE.

    Professional Student Exchange Program. Colorado has sent 329 students to professional programs through the Professional Student Exchange Program (PSEP), with 24 students currently studying optometry. In addition, in 2013-14 the state received 183 students in seven professional schools and some $5 million in support fees from other Western states. Historically, some 87 percent of PSEP students return to Colorado to pursue their professional careers.

    Western Regional Graduate Program. Colorado’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 that 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 are particular strengths, as are innovative interdisciplinary programs. In 2013-14 Colorado sent 67 students to out-of-state institutions, while receiving 345.

    Internet Course Exchange (ICE). WICHE ICE is an alliance of member institutions and systems with a set of policies, procedures, and support systems for sharing distance-delivered courses among two- and four-year institutions in the WICHE region.

    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. Otero Junior College, Pueblo Community College, and Red Rocks Community College are CHEO partner institutions and one of the NANSLO labs is based at Red Rocks Community College.

    WICHE’s Added Value

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

    Policy & Workforce Development. Colorado has participated in projects supporting better-informed decision making at the state level. WICHE initiatives have been sponsored by the Ford Foundation, Lumina Foundation for Education, the U.S. Department of Education, and others. WICHE experts often work with the state on such vital issues as the state’s workforce needs and balancing the financial aid portfolio between grants, loans, and scholarships, as well as between merit- and need-based aid. WICHE cosponsored a meeting in Denver with the College Board to encourage state leaders to become involved in increasing college graduation rates. WICHE President David Longanecker worked with the Higher Education Coordinating Board on unique challenges facing Colorado higher education and on possible opportunities for future policy to address these challenges.

    WICHE was commissioned by the Colorado Department of Higher Education (CDHE) to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the College Opportunity Fund (COF) legislation and its implementation. The evaluation was required under the legislation and included an analysis of enrollment patterns before and after COF’s implementation, along with interviews and focus groups with key architects of the policy and with institutional officers in financial aid, admissions, and registrar’s offices. WICHE presented its results to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education and to the institutions’ presidents.

    Colorado participates in the Adult College Completion Network. The ACC Network, funded by Lumina Foundation, is a nationwide collaborative learning network that shares promising strategies among institutions, organizations, state agencies, and others working to increase completion rates for adults with prior college credit. The network offers a listerv and webinars on issues related to adult completion, and an annual meeting of large-scale projects working in this area. Colorado was also chosen for an earlier, related Lumina-funded project: Non-traditional No More. WICHE worked with state leaders to identify the “ready adult” population – those who have almost enough credits to graduate but who have not yet returned to college – and help them earn their degrees. Over two years the state received $65,000 and technical assistance.

    In 2012 WICHE staff joined a meeting of various Colorado and Denver agencies to examine ideas for increasing the rates of education and training among the state’s low-income residents. The state was also a member of the Western Consortium for Accelerated Learning Opportunities, funded by the Department of Education and designed to build capacity among the Western states to better serve students, principally low-income and underrepresented students, with advanced placement courses and tests. Colorado was allotted $442,000 for online advanced placement enrollment, teacher training, test-fee reimbursement for low-income students, and other work. Low-income student participation increased, as indicated by advanced placement test-fee reimbursements to them, which climbed by over 230 percent within four years. WICHE also helped convene a state roundtable focused on accelerated learning.

    WICHE’s Lumina-funded project Getting What You Pay For: Understanding Higher Education Appropriations, Tuition, and Financial Aid promoted informed decision making and the alignment of higher education appropriations, tuition, and financial aid policy by state legislators, to improve student access and success. WICHE sent copies of the project’s eight policy briefs to all members of the Colorado Legislature.

    Colorado also participated in another Lumina project, Best Practices in Statewide Articulation and Transfer Systems, which seeks to develop a deeper understanding of how states coordinate their articulation and transfer programs for students who move from two-year to four-year institutions, focusing on strategies that increase access to and success in higher education.

    Colorado attended a 2009 meeting organized by WICHE and the Sullivan Alliance aimed at improving the production of graduates in high-demand health-related fields.

    Colorado State University-Pueblo and Metropolitan State College are members of the Western Academic Leadership Forum, whose members address regional higher education issues and engage in resource sharing. The 2011 Forum meeting was held in Fort Collins. 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 and information, share resources and expertise, and collaborate on regional initiatives. The Colorado Community College System office and the 13 community college campuses are members.

    Technology. Several Colorado colleges and universities are active participants in the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET),a membership cooperative that accelerates the adoption of effective practices and policies to advance excellence in technology-enhanced teaching and learning in higher education. In 2012 Rhonda Epper, assistant provost at the Colorado Community College System, won WCET’s Richard Jonsen Award for her contributions to the e-learning community. Denver was the host city for the 2011 WCET annual conference, a four-day event that drew some 400 attendees from across the country.

    WCET members have access to trusted information on emerging trends, policies, and exemplars of successful learning technology innovation in practice. WCET provides access to peers, colleagues, common interest groups, experts, and decision makers; communications tools that enable members to stay informed about developments affecting technology-enabled teaching and learning; and information about key developments affecting e-learning providers, such as new federal rules pertaining to distance education. WCET also manages multi-institutional projects, including one aimed at adult online learners and another at large-scale student data aggregation and predictive analytics to improve student outcomes.

    Mental Health. A nucleus for researching mental health policy and a provider of technical assistance in such areas as service innovation, system reform, workforce development, program evaluation, and other areas, WICHE’s Mental Health Program is another well-used resource.The program completed a comprehensive behavioral health workforce study, funded by the Colorado Health Foundation. It also supported a community-based training initiative for health and behavioral health providers to enhance their ability to identify and serve the needs of returning service members and their families. Additionally, WICHE is partnering with Mental Health America of Colorado to improve awareness of mental health with college and university student services and support staff. Two Colorado 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.

    Other Initiatives.Colorado College participates in 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 58 member institutions with total insured values of $86.4 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.