Washington & WICHE
Working Together for Over a Half Century

  • Since 1955 Washington has been a member of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE), a 16-state commission working to boost access to higher education for students in the West and, as importantly, to ensure their success.

    In the five-plus decades since Washington joined the commission, the state has benefitted in a number of essential ways.

    > Tens of thousands of students from Washington 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, Washington students and their families have saved $308 million since 1997, when the state started participating. (See “Doing the Math,” below, for Washington’s return on investment.)

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

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

    WICHE and Washington have shared a remarkably fruitful history. But their prospects for the future are even more exciting.

    Doing the Math: Washington's Return on Investment

    In 2013-14 Washington, its institutions, and its students saved or brought in some $38 million through WICHE and spent $131,000 for membership in the commission, yielding a 288-fold return on investment.

    In the last 5 years, Washington students’ savings from WUE alone have topped $163 million, yielding a 259-fold return on the state’s investment in WICHE.

    State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA). A new initiative, SARA addresses the critical topic of postsecondary distance education regulation. Funded by $3 million in Lumina Foundation grants, 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. Washington is among the first WICHE states to become a member of W-SARA, joining five other Western states and three Midwestern states in this reciprocal relationship.

    Washington is active in two of the three WICHE Student Exchange Programs: the Western Undergraduate Exchange and the Western Regional Graduate Program. In 2013-14 Washington’s students and families saved over $35 million. Washington saved money, too, through not having to establish and maintain costly programs in a number of areas, including some in healthcare.

    Western Undergraduate Exchange. Washington students have enrolled in undergraduate programs beyond Washington’s borders through the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE) since 1997. In 2013-14, 3,837 students from Washington were enrolled in out-of-state programs at reduced rates (150 percent of resident tuition), saving $33.4 million in tuition and fees – the average student savings amounted to $8,692. In the last five years alone, students saved more than $163 million.

    Washington benefits from WUE in another way: by receiving students from out of state. Washington’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 Washington after graduating. In 2013-14 Washington received 1,289 students through WUE.

    Professional Student Exchange Program. Washington sent some 240 students to professional programs through the Professional Student Exchange Program (PSEP), with students studying in optometry and osteopathic medicine. Historically, some 81 percent of PSEP graduates return to Washington to pursue their professional careers.

    Western Regional Graduate Program. Washington’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 Washington sent 160 students to out-of-state institutions, while receiving 71.

    The Consortium for Healthcare Education Online (CHEO),  funded (2012-2016) with a $14.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, is making use of the North American Network of Science Labs Online (NANSLO). With WICHE as its hub, NANSLO is an international network of web-based science labs using robotic software to allow students to conduct science experiments over the Internet. NANSLO opens access to STEM fields for rural and place-bound students by making it possible for them to participate in lab courses remotely. Laramie County Community College is one of eight CHEO partner institutions in five states that are developing allied health certificates in a hybrid or online format along with academic support and employment services. 


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

    Policy & Workforce Development. Washington is one of four states chosen to participate in WICHE’s Facilitating Development of a Multistate Longitudinal Data Exchange pilot project, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The initiative attempts to enable a more comprehensive regional view of the creation of human capital and its flow among multiple states by exchanging data across K-12 education, postsecondary education, and the workforce. In addition, the state participated in a Gates-funded meeting that brought together the stewards of the data systems in 14 WICHE states for discussions around linking data internally and with other states.

    WICHE is partnering with the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS) to research the new Washington Opportunity Scholarship program and its alignment with other state higher education finance policies, at the behest of Microsoft. WICHE staff has often consulted with and been invited to present to Washington policymakers on accountability, finance, and other issues. WICHE President David Longanecker worked with Washington policymakers on the state master plan. WICHE Director of Policy Research Brian Prescott was invited to give a talk to the NW Gear Up Association.

    Staff from the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges participates in WICHE’s Adult College Completion Network, a Lumina-funded project to increase the number of adults with significant college credit but no degree who return to postsecondary education and complete a credential. Washington also participated in another Lumina project, Best Practices in Statewide Articulation and Transfer Systems, 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.

    WICHE’s Lumina-funded Getting What You Pay For: Understanding Higher Education Appropriations, Tuition, and Financial Aid project 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 Washington Legislature. As an extension of this project, in 2009, WICHE President Longanecker testified to the House Higher Education Committee about accountability and performance in higher education with a focus on the baccalaureate level.

    Additionally, the Evergreen State College, Eastern Washington University, Central Washington University, Washington State University, and the University of Washington Educational Outreach belong to the Western Academic Leadership Forum, whose members address regional higher education issues and engage in cooperative resource sharing. A new 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. Big Bend Community College, Cascadia Community College, Columbia Basin College, Community Colleges of Spokane, Edmonds Community College, Renton Technical College, Spokane Falls Community College, and Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges are members.

    Technology. Washington has been very active in the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET), a membership organization that advances access and excellence in higher education through the innovative use of technology. WCET members, including the Washington State Board of Community and Technical Colleges, 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.

    The University of Washington’s Catalyst program won the WCET Outstanding Work (WOW) award, which recognizes effective and innovative uses of technology to address specific needs in higher education. In addition, WICHE has worked with the state on pursuing grants from the national Broadband Technology Opportunities Program and other programs.

    Mental Health. WICHE’s Mental Health Program has worked on a number of Washington initiatives. Staff has collaborated with the University of Washington’s Institute for Mental Health Research and Training to explore the application of evidence-based practices in rural settings. Dennis Mohatt, WICHE's vice president of behavioral health, was a plenary speaker at the Washington Association of Community Mental Health Programs’ annual conference, discussing rural mental health workforce development.

    Other Initiatives. Washington 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.

    Seattle Pacific University participates in another intitiative, the Master Property Program (MPP), which helps institutions in the West 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 150 campuses with total insured values of over $100 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.

    In a third collaboration with MHEC, WICHE extends the benefits of MHECtech to colleges and universities in the West enabling them to purchase off competitively bid purchasing agreements to reduce costs on a range of hardware and software products and services.