State Highlights

WICHE and Alaska

Partnering for Six Decades
Year joined: 


► 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 $209.2 million since 1988, when the program was founded.

► 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.


Return on Investment.

► In 2016-17 Alaska, its institutions, and its students saved $11.8 million through WICHE and spent $145,000 for membership in the commission, yielding an 82-fold return on investment.

► In the last 5 years, Alaska students’ savings from WUE alone have added up to $53 million, yielding a 78-fold return on the state’s investment in WICHE.

Student Savings
Student Savings WUE: 
Student Savings WRGP: 
Student Savings PSEP: 
Student Savings Total: 

Programs and Participation.

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 2016-17 Alaska’s students and families saved $11.8 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 2016-17, 1,165 students from Alaska are enrolled in out-of-state programs at reduced rates (150 percent of resident tuition), saving more than $10.9 million in tuition and fees – the average student savings amounted to $9,395. In the last 10 years, students have saved nearly $114.5 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 2016-17 Alaska received 528 students through WUE.

Professional Student Exchange Program. Alaska has sent 1,255 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 some 450 high-quality, distinctive at 61 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 2016-17 Alaska sent 39 students to out-of-state institutions, while receiving 11.

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 Added Value.

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

Policy & Workforce Development.

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, and Alaska’s state profile, which indicates that:

  • Alaska is projected to produce 7,900 high school graduates per year, on average, between school years 2012 and 2032. The year in which the high school graduating class is projected to increase to its next high number is 2025-26 – only about 1.4% more graduates than 2012.
  • Non-White public high school graduates in Alaska will increase from 40% to 45% of public high school graduates, while White graduates decrease from 60% to 55%.

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) is WICHE’s online searchable database. It provides state and national policymakers, education leaders, practitioners, and education consumers with an inventory of state-level policies and resources in key 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.

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. The system, known as “ANSWERS,” will link existing Alaska K-12, higher education, and employment data to deliver critical information to Alaska’s policymakers, educators, and the general public about the state’s education continuum. Alaska also 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 the U.S. Department of Education (at no cost to the state) and facilitated a 2010 retreat at the WICHE facilities for state officials involved in SLDS development and consultants supplied by the federal government. WICHE’s work also contributed directly to the applications Alaska submitted for the SLDS federal competitions.

​The Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education, University of Alaska Anchorage, University of Alaska Southeast, and the University of Alaska System are members of the Western Academic Leadership Forum (the Forum), the chief academic leaders of the four-year institutions and their related system and state agencies, who address regional higher education issues, and engage in resource sharing. The Western Alliance for Community College Academic Leaders (the Alliance), 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 collaborate on regional initiatives. The University of Alaska Fairbanks, University of Alaska Fairbanks–Bristol Bay, Chukchi Campus, Interior-Aleutions Campus, Kuskokwim Campus, and Northwest Campus; and University of Alaska Anchorage Community and Technical College are members.


Alaska has been active in the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET), 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. Our growing membership 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 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.

WICHE’s Mental Health Program has maintained a high level of engagement with Alaska for most of its 60 years of service to the West. Our earliest efforts spanned the transition from territory to statehood, and included deploying an itinerant clinical team each summer from the late 1950s through the 1960s. This team travelled across Alaska providing both mental health and special education-related evaluations to assist in service planning. WICHE led the development of the pioneering Alaska Psychology Internship Consortium. This project allows University of Alaska psychology doctoral students to complete their training within the state at training sites that focus on rural and indigenous people. The program is accredited by the American Psychology Association (APA). WICHE has also partnered with the Alaska Pacific University Psychology Doctoral Program to support its accreditation by the APA. Since the inception of the project, the WICHE MHP has provided administrative leadership and technical assistance related to curriculum enhancements, admissions processes, practicum and dissertation guidelines, and program leadership. The program admitted its first cohort into the new curriculum in May 2015, with plans of submitting a self-study for accreditation by the APA in December 2015.

Also in the area of training and education, WICHE helped  develop the Alaskan Core Competencies as part of a multiyear project that focused on improving the skills of direct-care workers, along with a standardized curriculum and tools to assess worker skills. WICHE also conducted three train-the-trainer events on the competencies, in order to grow the pool of instructors who are skilled to disseminate the training for direct-care workers in agencies across Alaska. 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 staff has also led several evaluation studies in Alaska, including systems-level and individual program evaluations utilizing multi-method approaches to provide information to funders on the viability of program structure and progress toward goals. In FY15, WICHE was engaged in supporting a range of projects:

► Quality improvement efforts at the Alaska Psychiatric Institute.

► Community needs assessment for the Mat-Su Health Foundation.

► Technical assistance to the Alaska Psychology Internship Consortium (AK-PIC).

► Core Competencies for direct care workers training for the Alaska MH Trust Authority.

► Consultation to support doctoral program accreditation of the counseling psychology program at Alaska Pacific University.

► Technical assistance to the Division of Behavioral Health related to its Outcomes Identification and System Performance Project (OISP).

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. Alaska was among the first WICHE states to become a member of W-SARA in this reciprocal relationship.

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 in 1994 and expanded to the WICHE region in 2004, the MPP includes more than 160 campuses with total insured values of over $103 million. 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 from competitively bid purchasing agreements to reduce costs on a range of hardware and software products and services.

Former Commissioners.

Diane Barrans, retired executive director, Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education, Juneau; Patricia Heller, former state director, U.S. Senate, Anchorage; Marshall Lind, chancellor emeritus, University of Alaska Fairbanks; Johnny Ellis, state senator from Anchorage; Mark Hamilton, former president of the University of Alaska Statewide System, Fairbanks; Jerome Komisar, former president of the University of Alaska Statewide System; Arliss Sturgulewski, former senator from Anchorage; and Kerry Romesburg, president of Jacksonville University and former executive director of the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education.