The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) is 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 other two U.S. Pacific territories - American Samoa and Guam - 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 collectively as the 16th member of WICHE. As part of its membership in WICHE, CNMI is 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.
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.
The Student Exchange Program (SEP) provides students with access to out-of-state higher education options, along with significant tuition savings. Over 37,300 students are enrolled in undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs outside their home states through SEP, saving $343.3 million in 2015-16. 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. CNMI enrolled 20 WUE students and saved $199,343 in AY 2015-16. Through the Western Regional Graduate Program, 1,439 students are enrolled in 380 distinctive graduate programs at 60 institutions. CNMI enrolled one WRGP student and saved some $14,630 in AY 2015-16. More than 15,500 professionals have received home state support when enrolled in programs in another Western state through the Professional Student Exchange Program.
The Interstate Passport is an outcomes-based framework for block transfer of lower division general education. Developed by faculty, registrars, institutional researchers, and academic advisors at two- and four-year institutions in seven states (California, Hawaii, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming), the framework addresses barriers to degree completion posed by uneven transfer policies and practices across states. Institutions in four other WICHE states (Colorado, Idaho, Montana, and New Mexico) and additional states outside the region are involved in its Phase III expansion and scaling efforts to build a nationwide infrastructure supporting friction-free transfer for Passport students. By earning a Passport, students who transfer to another Passport institution will have their learning recognized regardless of differences in course titles and credits, and will not be required to repeat courses to meet general education requirements. .
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.
The implementation of the Common Core Standards (CCSS) or other similar academic standards is well underway in most states, and the corresponding assessment systems went live this academic year. As implementation continues, there are a variety of challenges that K-12 and higher education leaders will face in the coming years related to student movement across state lines. To address these challenges, WICHE, with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, convened higher education and K-12 leaders from the Western region and additional bordering states in October 2014. The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands was one of 18 states and territories that participated.
The Adult College Completion (ACC) Network, funded by Lumina Foundation, is a 750 member learning network that unites organizations and agencies working to increase college completion by adults with prior college credits but no degree. Activities include an annual workshop, a webinar series, publications, a listserv, and other resources. The ACC Network and WICHE have become 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 one of the most informative, reliable and forward-thinking organizations regarding the role of technology and innovation in higher education, and includes more than 350 institutions, state and system-wide higher education agencies, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and corporations in nearly all U.S. states and many Canadian provinces. WCET member institutions serve more than 4 million college students taking all or part of their academic programs via technology. Key activities include an annual meeting, leadership summits, national webcasts, and email list-based discussions among members. Major topics of interest to the WCET members include student and faculty success, managing e-learning, emerging technologies 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.