State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA). A new initiative, SARA addresses the critical topic of postsecondary distance education regulation. Funded by a $2.3 million Lumina Foundation grant, SARA is a national initiative spearheaded by the National Council for SARA, the Midwestern Higher Education Compact, the New England Board of Higher Education, the Southern Regional Education Board, and WICHE. In an era when students can take online courses from institutions based all over the country, states have been faced with the challenging task of authorizing all out-of-state institutions offering online courses to their students, while institutions have often had to pay substantial fees to the many states in which they operate. SARA offers a cost-effective, efficient, straightforward framework for authorization that institutions, states, and students can trust. The National SARA Council, housed at WICHE, coordinates SARA's work across the four regional compacts.
Utah 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 2013-14 Utah’s students and families saved over $6.7 million. Utah saved money, too, through not having to establish and maintain costly programs in a number of areas, including some in healthcare.
Western Undergraduate Exchange. Utah students have enrolled in undergraduate programs beyond Utah’s borders through the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE) since 1988. In 2013-14, 913 students from Utah are enrolled in out-of-state programs at reduced rates (150 percent of resident tuition), saving some $5.1 million in tuition and fees – the average student savings amounted to $5,597. In the last 10 years, students have saved $41.8 million.
Utah benefits from WUE in another way: by receiving students from out of state. Utah’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 Utah after graduating. In 2013-14 Utah received 814 students through WUE.
Professional Student Exchange Program. Utah has sent 699 students to professional programs through the Professional Student Exchange Program (PSEP), with students studying in a host of critical fields, including optometry, podiatry, and veterinary medicine. Historically, some 69 percent of PSEP students return to Utah to pursue their professional careers.
Western Regional Graduate Program. Utah’s postgraduates also participate in graduate programs through the Western Regional Graduate Program (WRGP), which offers access to over 314 high-quality, distinctive programs (“distinctive” meaning that they’re offered at only four or fewer institutions in the WICHE region) at 56 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 2013-14 Utah sent 63 students to out-of-state institutions, while receiving 102.
Internet Course Exchange (ICE). WICHE ICE is an alliance of member institutions and systems with a set of policies, procedures, and support systems for sharing distance-delivered courses among two- and four-year institutions in the WICHE region.
Utah is one of four partner states participating in the Interstate Passport Initiative which has developed a new learning-outcomes-based framework for transfer. The goal of the effort is to improve graduation rates, shorten time to degree, and save money for the West’s increasingly mobile students by ensuring that they are not required to repeat learning they have already achieved. The interstate transfer framework is being rolled out in phases. Sixteen institutions in four states – including all of Utah’s public institutions – have agreed to award the Passport to students who achieve its Phase I learning outcomes during the next five years.
WICHE’s Added Value
Utah gains added value from WICHE’s programs in policy, workforce development, technology, mental health, and other areas.
Policy & Workforce Development. Utah has participated in projects supporting better-informed decision making at the state level. WICHE initiatives have been sponsored by the Ford Foundation, Lumina Foundation for Education, 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 the state’s workforce needs and balancing the financial aid portfolio between grants, loans, and scholarships, as well as between merit- and need-based aid. Utah decision makers also keep current on pressing policy issues developing all over the nation through WICHE’s extensive network.
Utah participates in WICHE’s College Access Challenge Grant (CACG) Consortium and Network, a federally funded formula grant program designed to increase the number of low-income students who enroll and succeed in college. The network provides a forum for developing, implementing, and maintaining state CACG efforts, with states sharing best practices and lessons learned and receiving current evidence-based research. WICHE-related services to the consortium states include grant development and management, program implementation and evaluation, and ongoing expert consultation and guidance.
Utah worked with the Western Consortium for Accelerated Learning Opportunities, to increase the number of low-income students enrolling and succeeding in Advanced Placement courses and tests, with funding from the federal Advanced Placement Incentive Program.
WICHE’s Lumina-funded project Getting What You Pay For: Understanding Higher Education Appropriations, Tuition, and Financial Aid promoted informed decision making and the alignment of higher education appropriations, tuition, and financial aid policy by state legislators, to improve student access and success. WICHE sent copies of the project’s eight policy briefs to all members of the Utah Legislature.
Utah also participated in another Lumina project, Best Practices in Statewide Articulation and Transfer Systems, which seeks to develop a deeper understanding of how states coordinate their articulation and transfer programs for students who move from two-year to four-year institutions, focusing on strategies that increase access to and success in higher education.
Additionally, the Utah System of Higher Education and Dixie State University are members of the Western Academic Leadership Forum, whose members address regional higher education issues and engage in cooperative resource sharing. Another WICHE initiative, the Western Alliance for Community College Academic Leaders, 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. Salt Lake Community College and Snow College are members.
Technology. Several Utah colleges and universities are active participants in the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET), a membership cooperative that accelerates the adoption of effective practices and policies to advance excellence in technology-enhanced teaching and learning in higher education. Western Governors University participated in the Transparency by Design project, a consumer education and accountability strategy benefiting adult students and the online higher education community.
WCET members have access to trusted information on emerging trends, policies, and exemplars of successful learning technology innovation in practice. WCET provides access to peers, colleagues, common interest groups, experts, and decision makers; communications tools that enable members to stay informed about developments affecting technology-enabled teaching and learning; and information about key developments affecting e-learning providers, such as new federal rules pertaining to distance education. WCET also manages multi-institutional projects, one aimed at adult online learners and another on large-scale student data aggregation and predictive analytics to improve student outcomes.
Mental Health A nucleus for researching mental health policy and a provider of technical assistance in such areas as service innovation, system reform, workforce development, program evaluation, and other areas, WICHE’s Mental Health Program is another well-used resource. Southern Utah University participated in a research study, funded by the National Institute for Mental Health, that focuses on campus mental health and the effects of mental health first aid training for campus residence life staff.
Other Initiatives. Utah participated in the WICHE-managed State Scholars Initiative (SSI), a national business/education partnership effort working to increase the number of students who take a rigorous curriculum in high school; its program was funded by a grant of $300,000 from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Vocational and Adult Education.
Utah’s Westminster College participates in another initiative, the Master Property Program (MPP), which 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 58 member institutions with total insured values of $86.4 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.