State Highlights

WICHE and The U.S. Pacific Territories and Freely Associated States

Working Together to Boost Higher Education Access and Success
Year joined: 

The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) and Guam are the first of the U.S. Pacific territories and freely associated states to become active in the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education's programs and initiatives. The third U.S. Pacific territory, American Samoa, and the three freely associated states - Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, and Palau - are also eligible to participate and as they sign on, they will join CNMI and Guam collectively as the 16th member of WICHE. As part of their membership in WICHE, CNMI and Guam are participating in the Western Undergraduate Exchange which allows students from member states and territories to enroll in undergraduate programs in other member states and territories at deep discounts. 

WICHE Programs

The Student Exchange Program (SEP) provides students with access to out-of-state higher education options, along with significant tuition savings. Over 40,500 students are enrolled in undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs outside their home states through SEP, saving $377.2 million in 2016-17. In WICHE’s Western Undergraduate Exchange, students pay no more than 150 percent of the receiving school’s resident tuition, substantially less than standard nonresident tuition. In AY 2016-17, CNMI enrolled 54 WUE students and saved $445,452 and Guam enrolled 30 WUE students, saving over $450,000. Through the Western Regional Graduate Program, 1,567 students are enrolled in more than 400 distinctive graduate programs at 59 institutions. CNMI enrolled two WRGP student and saved $29,740 in AY 2016-17. More than 15,600 professionals have received home state support when enrolled in programs in another Western state through the Professional Student Exchange Program.

Interstate Passport is a program that facilitates block transfer of lower-division general education based on learning outcomes and proficiency criteria. It includes learning outcomes for nine knowledge and skill areas developed by faculty at institutions in multiple states as well as an academic progress tracking system for Passport transfer students designed by registrars and institutional researchers. The goal of the Interstate Passport is to eliminate transfer students’ unnecessary repetition of learning previously achieved.

WICHE’s Policy Analysis and Research unit supports better-informed decision making at the state and territory level. WICHE initiatives have been sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Ford Foundation, Lumina Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education, and others. WICHE policy experts often visit members to present or consult on vital issues, including workforce needs, financial aid policy development, governance, and performance funding.

One of WICHE’s most widely known publications is the Knocking at the College Door: Projections of High School Graduates series, which for almost 40 years has provided strategic data about how high school graduates are likely to change in the years ahead. The 9th edition of Knocking at the College Door, released in December 2016, describes how the nation has entered a decade of stabilization in the number of high school graduates, with substantial contraction in the number of White high school graduates and rapid increases of non-White populations. After about 2025, the nation and most states will produce fewer high school graduates than in recent years, due to a recent “baby bust”. The WICHE region will generally track the national trend, but it will be less impacted by the contraction of White youth and more influenced by a projected 20 percent increase of Hispanic high school graduates through 2024 and then decrease by about the same amount between 2025 and 2032. There is an abundance of information on, including the publication and other reports, projections data, interactive data dashboards, recorded webinars and presentations.

The Adult College Completion (ACC) Network, funded by Lumina Foundation, was an 800-member learning network that united organizations and agencies working to increase college completion by adults with prior college credits but no degree. Activities included an annual workshop, a webinar series, publications, a listserv, and other resources. The ACC Network and WICHE became national leaders in the area of adult learners and continue to be an important resource to those who strive to better serve non-traditional students.

The State Higher Education Policy Database (SHEPD), WICHE’s online searchable database, provides state and national policymakers, education leaders, practitioners, and education consumers with an inventory of state-level policies and resources in key policy issue areas related to access and success in higher education. It contains a blog and an electronic SHEPD alert distribution list to keep subscribers current on important updates. A related resource is the Policy Publications Clearinghouse, a depository of publications, reports, and briefs related to higher education.

The Northern Marianas College is a member of the Western Alliance for Community College Academic Leaders (the Alliance), an organization managed by WICHE that bring academic leaders of community colleges and technical schools and systems together with state governing and coordinating board associated with two-year institutions to exchange ideas and information, share resources and expertise, and collaborate on regional initiatives.

The WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET) is the leader in the practice, policy, and advocacy of technology-enhanced learning in higher education. WCET is widely recognized as an informative, reliable, and forward-thinking organization regarding the role of technology and innovation in higher education, and includes more than 350 institutions, state and systemwide higher education agencies, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and corporations in nearly all U.S. states and many Canadian provinces. 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, the popular Frontiers blog, issue briefs, and email list-based discussions among members. Major topics of interest to the WCET membership include student and faculty success, the Internet of Things, managing e-learning, emerging technologies, broadband and learning innovation, and evolving policy issues.

Mental Health. The behavioral health system in CNMI is operated by the Commonwealth Health Care Corporation through their Community Guidance Center. During FY14, WICHE assisted CNMI in developing their successful Child and Family System of Care Planning Grant application, which was funded in the autumn of 2014 by SAMHSA. In FY16, WICHE will be supporting CNMI planning and training efforts relating to this grant funded effort. The Mental Health Program is also facilitating preliminary planning to build a partnership for Northern Marianas College students to pursue their bachelor of social work degree through the University of Alaska-Fairbanks distance delivered Bachelor of Social Work program. 

State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA). SARA is a voluntary, nationwide initiative of states that will make distance education courses more accessible to students across state lines and make it easier for states to regulate and institutions to participate in interstate distance education. The effort initially was funded by $3.2 million in grants from Lumina Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and is now supported by fees paid by institutions. The initiative is administered by the country’s four regional higher education compacts – the Midwestern Higher Education Compact (MHEC), the New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE), the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) and the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) – and overseen by The National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA). States and institutions that choose to participate agree to operate under common standards and procedures, providing a more uniform and less costly regulatory environment for institutions, more focused oversight responsibilities for states and better resolution of student complaints. The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands is not yet a member of W-SARA.