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.
Idaho is active in two of the three WICHE Student Exchange Programs: the Western Undergraduate Exchange, and the Western Regional Graduate Program. In 2013-14 Idaho’s students and families saved over $11.3 million. Idaho saved money, too, through not having to establish and maintain costly programs in a number of areas, including some in healthcare.
Western Undergraduate Exchange. Idaho students have enrolled in undergraduate programs beyond Idaho’s borders through the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE) since 1999. In 2013-14, 1,274 students from Idaho are enrolled in out-of-state programs at reduced rates (150 percent of resident tuition), saving more than $10.3 million in tuition and fees – the average student savings amounted to $8,094. In the last 10 years, students have saved some $83.7 million.
Idaho benefits from WUE in another way: by receiving students from out of state. Idaho’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 Idaho after graduating. In 2013-14 Idaho received 2,031 students through WUE.
Professional Student Exchange Program. Idaho has sent 850 students to professional programs through the Professional Student Exchange Program (PSEP), with three students currently studying optometry. In addition, in 2013-14 the state received two students and over $30,000 in support fees from other Western states.
Western Regional Graduate Program. Idaho’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 Idaho sent 70 students to out-of-state institutions, while receiving 56.
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.
WICHE’s Added Value
Idaho gains added value from WICHE’s programs in policy, workforce development, technology, mental health, and other areas.
Policy & Workforce Development. Idaho 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. In addition, WICHE policy experts often visit the state to present or consult on a number of vital issues, including 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. The state’s decision makers keep current on many pressing policy issues developing all over the nation through WICHE’s extensive network.
Idaho is one of four states to participate in the Gates-funded Facilitating Development of a Multistate Longitudinal Data Exchange pilot project, which attempts to enable a more comprehensive regional view of the creation of human capital and its flow among multiple states by exchanging data across K-12 education, postsecondary education, and the workforce. WICHE held the fifth working group session of the exchange project in January in Boise, which allowed a larger number of Idaho officials to attend and participate. In addition, WICHE has provided counsel to Idaho State Board of Education related to its own efforts to build a state longitudinal data system. The state also participated in a Gates-funded meeting which brought together the stewards of the data systems in 14 of the WICHE states for discussions around linking data internally and with other states. A central topic of conversation was how to address the challenges to data sharing presented by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Another meeting was the Western Summit on Workforce Certification and Higher Education for policymakers in the West, held in response to the national demand for more highly skilled workers in a host of fields, from healthcare to high tech. Participants explored how states might use a workforce certification system – which would allow business and higher education to communicate with a common language about workforce demand and supply – to improve their ability to prepare individuals for productive careers and enhance the health of their economies.
Idaho participates in WICHE’s College Access Challenge Grant (CACG) Consortium and Network, a federally funded formula grant program designed to increase the number of low-income students who enroll and succeed in college. WICHE provides CACG Consortium states with assistance with grant development and management, program implementation and evaluation, and ongoing expert consultation and guidance. Consortium states are also members of the CACG Network, which provides a forum for developing, implementing, and maintaining state CACG efforts, with states sharing best practices and lessons learned and receiving current evidence-based research.
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 Idaho Legislature.
Idaho 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.
Additionally, Boise State University, Idaho State University, and the University of Idaho are members of the Western Academic Leadership Forum, whose members address regional higher education issues and engage in cooperative resource sharing. Another WICHE initiative, 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 College of Southern Idaho and North Idaho College are members.
Technology. Several Idaho 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.
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, one aimed at adult online learners and another on 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 supported the Idaho Governor’s Office and the Legislature in a strategic-planning process focused on supporting improvements in the state’s behavioral health system. This included conducting research for and providing technical assistance to the Governor’s Transformation Workgroup. The program also provided technical assistance to the Division of Mental Health in its efforts to examine the need for a forensic psychiatric hospital facility. In addition, two Idaho higher education campuses participated in a research study, funded by the National Institute for Mental Health, that focuses on campus mental health and the effects of mental health first aid training for campus residence life staff.
Other Initiatives.Another initiative, the Master Property Program (MPP), hhelps 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.