State Highlights

WICHE and Montana

Partnering for Over Six Decades
Year joined: 


► Tens of thousands of students from Montana 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, Montana students have saved $112.5 million since 1988, when the program was founded.

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

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

Return on Investment.

► In 2016-17 Montana, its institutions, and its students saved or brought in some $8.2 million through WICHE and spent $145,000 for membership in the commission, yielding a 57-fold return on investment.

► In the last 5 years, Montana savings from WUE alone have totaled over $26.2 million, yielding a 38-fold return on the state’s investment in WICHE.

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

Programs and Participation.

Montana 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 Montana’s students and families saved some $8.2 million. Montana saved money, too, through not having to establish and maintain costly programs in a number of areas, including some in healthcare.

Western Undergraduate Exchange.Montana students have enrolled in undergraduate programs beyond Montana’s borders through the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE) since 1988. In 2016-17, 931 students from Montana are enrolled in out-of-state programs at reduced rates (150 percent of resident tuition), saving $5.5 million in tuition and fees – the average student savings amounted to $5,910. In the last 10 years, students have saved $54.3 million

Montana benefits from WUE in another way: by receiving students from out of state. Montana’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 Montana after graduating. In 2016-17 Montana received 2,760 students through WUE.

Professional Student Exchange Program. Montana has sent some 1,579 students to professional programs through the Professional Student Exchange Program (PSEP), with students studying in a host of critical fields, including dentistry, medicine, occupational therapy, optometry, osteopathic medicine, podiatry, and veterinary medicine. Historically, 60 percent of PSEP students return to Montana to pursue their professional careers. In addition, in 2016-17 the state received six students and $80,575 in support fees from other Western states.

Western Regional Graduate Program. Montana’s students also enroll in graduate and certificate programs through the Western Regional Graduate Program (WRGP), which offers access to more than 400 high-quality, distinctive programs (“distinctive” meaning they’re offered at only four or fewer institutions in the WICHE region) at 59 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 2016-17 Montana sent 51 students to out-of-state institutions, while receiving 54.

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.

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

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 Montana’s state profile, which indicates that:

  • Montana is projected to produce 10,000 high school graduates per year, on average, between school years 2012 and 2032. The number of graduates in Montana will increase 11% between 2012 and 2026.
  • Non-White public high school graduates are currently about 13% of all of Montana’s public high school graduates, and will increase to 18% of the total by 2032.

Policy & Workforce Development.

Montana has participated in projects supporting better-informed decision making at the state level. WICHE initiatives have been sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, 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, balancing the financial aid portfolio, educational policy and practice, and demographic change. 
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.
Montana participated in a Gates-funded meeting that 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.

Additionally, the Montana University System and its 16 universities and colleges are members of the Western Academic Leadership Forum (the Forum) or the Western Alliance for Community College Academic Leaders (the Alliance). The Forum's members are 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 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. Montana hosted a joint annual meeting of the Forum and the Alliance in Missoula in 2016.


Several Montana 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 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.

For the past several years, WICHE has worked with Mental Health America-Montana to explore ways for Native American systems of care to offer a fuller range of services that can be reimbursed by Medicaid, Medicare, and other insurers.

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. Montana is 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. 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.

Dick Anderson, chief executive officer, Dick Anderson Construction; Kim Gillan, former state senator; Sheila Stearns, commissioner of higher education emerita; Dan W. Harrington, former state senator; Mary Sheehy Moe, former deputy commissioner for two-year education, Montana University System; Kerra Melvin, former student regent, Montana Tech; Ed Jasmin, former chair, Montana Board of Regents; Cindy Younkin, former representative, Montana House of Representatives; Frank Kerins, president emeritus, Carroll College; Richard Crofts, former commissioner, Montana University System; Emily Stonington (WICHE chair, 2001), former senator, Montana State Senate; and William McGregor, physician from Great Falls.