State Highlights

WICHE and California

Partnering for Six Decades
Year joined: 


► Tens of thousands of students from California 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, California students and their families have saved $827.8 million since 1997, when the state began participating. 

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

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

Return on investment.

► In 2015-16 California, its institutions, and its students saved or brought in some $167 million through WICHE and spent $141,000 for membership in the commission, yielding a 1,188-fold return on investment.

► In the last 5 years, California students’ savings from WUE alone have topped $600.9 million, yielding a 912-fold return on the state’s investment in WICHE.
Student Savings
Student Savings WUE: 
Student Savings WRGP: 
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PSEP Revenue: 
Grand Total: 

Programs and Participation.

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. California is not yet a member of SARA. 

California is active in two of the three WICHE Student Exchange Programs: the Western Undergraduate Exchange and the Western Regional Graduate Program. In 2015-16 California’s students and families saved over $165.6 million. California saved money, too, through not having to establish and maintain costly programs in a number of areas, including some in healthcare.

Western Undergraduate Exchange. California students have enrolled in undergraduate programs beyond California’s borders through the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE) since 1997. In 2015-16, 16,784 students from California are enrolled in out-of-state programs at reduced rates (150 percent of resident tuition), saving over $158.2 million in tuition and fees – the average student savings amounted to $9,428. In the last 10 years, students have saved $791.9 million.

California benefits from WUE in another way: by receiving students from out of state. California’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 California after graduating. In 2015-16 California received 707 students through WUE.

Professional Student Exchange Program. California receives professional students through the Professional Student Exchange Program (PSEP). In 2015-16 it received 93 PSEP students and $1.8 million in support fees.

Western Regional Graduate Program. California’s postgraduates also participate in graduate programs through the Western Regional Graduate Program (WRGP), which offers access to 380 high-quality, distinctive programs (“distinctive” meaning they’re offered at only four or fewer institutions in the WICHE region) at 60 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 2015-16 California sent 505 students to out-of-state institutions, while receiving 17.

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 Added Value.

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

Policy & Workforce Development.

California has participated in projects supporting better-informed decision making at the state level. WICHE initiatives have been sponsored by the Ford Foundation, Lumina Foundation, 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 workforce needs and balancing the financial aid portfolio.

WICHE was asked by the California Legislative Analyst’s Office for its counsel on how to help the state address proposed cuts to financial aid programs. Staff also served as an expert resource at a Public Policy Institute of California meeting, addressing the changes necessary in the wake of Governor Brown’s decision to defund the California Postsecondary Education Commission, with the goal of ensuring that CPEC’s data collection was not lost. Staff discussed how to move California’s efforts to link data statewide and across segments forward and provided a brief report of what other states are doing in terms of statewide data governance. In addition, WICHE President David Longanecker worked with the Legislative Analyst’s Office on state governance and testified before legislators on university presidents’ compensation systems.

The implementation of the Common Core Standards (CCSS) or other similar academic standards is well underway in most states, and the corresponding assessment systems are set to go live in the current 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 begin the conversation about 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. California was one of 17 states along with the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands to participate.

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) 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.

Additionally, the California State University (CSU) System; CSU Fresno; CSU Fullerton; CSU Long Beach; CSU Northridge; CSU San Diego; California State Polytechnic University, Pomona; Sonoma State University; and the University of California, San Diego are members of the Western Academic Leadership Forum (the Forum), whose members address regional higher education issues and engage in cooperative 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 expertise, and collaborate on regional initiatives. The California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, Cerritos College, and Modesto Junior College are members.


Several California colleges and universities are active participants 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 one of the most informative, reliable, and forward-thinking organizations 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 member institutions actively serve more than 4 million college students taking all or part of their academic programs via technology. 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, and email list-based discussions among members. Major topics of interest to the WCET membership include student success, faculty success, managing e-learning, emerging technologies and evolving policy issues.

Mental Health.

The WICHE Mental Health Program has been minimally active in California over the past several years. During FY13, WICHE facilitated a learning community of providers engaged in integrated behavioral and primary healthcare, while in FY15 we conducted trainings around improved community-based services to veterans in Truckee. In June 2015, WICHE facilitated a provider training focused on suicide prevention at the annual conference of the California Rural Indian Health Board.

Other Initiatives.

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 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. California Institute of Technology, Fresno Pacific University, Southwestern Law School, and the University of South Los Angeles are participants 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 hardward and software products and services.

Former commissioners

Linda Thor, chancellor, Foothill-De Anza Community College District; Michael Kirst, president, State Board of Education; Roy Ashburn, board member, California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board, Sacramento; Jim Silva, assembly member, Huntington Beach; Francisco J. Hernandez, vice chancellor for students, University of Hawai'i at Manoa and former vice chancellor of the University of California, Santa Cruz; Herbert A. Medina, professor at Loyola Marymount University; Robert Moore, former California Postsecondary Education Commission (CPEC) executive director; Warren Fox, former CPEC executive director; Judith Chambers, special assistant to the vice president of university advancement, the University of the Pacific; Richard Hovannisian, professor emeritus, History Department, UCLA; Ellen F. Wright, principal, Wright Consulting, and former member of the CPEC; Diane Vines, associate professor, University of Portland School of Nursing, and former vice president for academic development at the California State University Institute; and Charles Lindahl, associate vice chancellor emeritus, the California State University.