Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resources

WICHE is closely monitoring the outbreak of “SARS-CoV-2,” and the disease it causes, which has been named “coronavirus disease 2019” (abbreviated “COVID-19”). To inform and facilitate your response to a rapidly changing situation, WICHE has compiled the following set of resources, which will be updated as new information becomes available.

General Info

WICHE (Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education) is a regional, nonprofit organization. Membership includes the 15 western states and the U.S. Pacific Territories and Freely Associated States. WICHE and its member states work to improve access to higher education and ensure student success. Our student exchange programs, regional initiatives, and our research and policy work allow us to assist constituents throughout the West and beyond.

WICHE is the only organization in the West that focuses exclusively on higher education issues, from access and accountability to tuition and fees to distance learning and innovation, providing hard data on the trends as well as analysis. In the West, public higher education is the primary backbone of our economy, and WICHE’s policy research and collaborative programs work toward the goal of supporting the West’s citizens and its constantly evolving cultures.

Our flexible, state-responsive Student Exchange Programs provide a broad range of higher education options for some 35,600 students each year at undergraduate, graduate, and professional levels. Students gain affordable access to desired programs, while states avoid unnecessary duplication of programs and institutions can devote their resources to improving the quality of their educational offerings.

In WICHE’s Western Undergraduate Exchange, students pay 150 percent of the receiving school’s resident tuition, substantially less than standard nonresident tuition. Some 34,000 students enrolled in 2013-14, saving some $264.7 million in tuition. Through our Professional Student Exchange Program, some 14,000 professionals, most in healthcare, have received home-state support when enrolled in programs in another Western state; the majority of them remain in the region to practice their careers. In 2014-15, some 660 students enrolled in the program, which offers 10 fields of professional education. In 2013-14, some 350 distinctive graduate programs at more than 55 institutions in 15 states were available on an in-state tuition basis through our Western Regional Graduate Program. More than 1,130 graduate students participated in WRGP in 2013-14.

WICHE’s newest exchange is the Internet Course Exchange (ICE), an alliance of member institutions and systems that broadens student access to online courses and programs. WICHE ICE is an institutional tool that enables students to seamlessly access other two- and four-year institutions’ courses while using the advisory, registration, and financial aid services provided at their home campuses.

The 15 member states and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands pay equally apportioned dues; annual dues for FY 2016 are $141,000. The dues represent approximately one-third of WICHE’s annual budget and are used to support our core programs. Grants from foundations and corporations, federal support and other fees leverage the state investments by more than a two-to-one ratio, sustaining and maximizing the return on taxpayer dollars.

WCET is the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies, the leader in the policy, practice, and advocacy of technology-enhanced higher education. Founded in 1989 to serve the members of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE), WCET has grown into 350 institutions and organizations located across the U.S. and internationally. Our members are dedicated to improving the quality and reach of technology-enhanced teaching and learning in higher education.

Professional Student Exchange Program (PSEP)

Healthcare workforce needs are at an all-time high, regionally and nationally. State policymakers are looking for the smartest investment of limited tax dollars, and sharing educational resources within the West is a fiscally responsible approach. Given fiscal pressures and other factors, it doesn’t always make sense for a state to create its own program in certain healthcare professions.

Years ago, our Western states formed the Western Regional Education Compact and agreed to share higher education resources in the region through WICHE.

WICHE states that use PSEP have discovered they get an excellent return on investment when they appropriate funds to educate students at other institutions within the WICHE region. Those funds are administered through WICHE’s PSEP and are sent to the enrolling institutions. The student’s home state pays a “support fee” for the student’s seat; this fee is negotiated between WICHE and the cooperating programs.

If your state is a member of WICHE and does not offer a healthcare education program at an in-state public institution, there’s a good chance that your state can help you through WICHE’s PSEP. Your state may also provide support through PSEP in a healthcare field that is only offered at a private institution located within the state.

Visit our Web site for full details.

Apply directly to your home state, and become “certified.” This means you’re deemed a bona fide resident of your home state, eligible to compete for WICHE support (which is provided by your home state tax dollars). State residency requirements vary across the West. Visit our website for your state office’s contact information.

PSEP covers professional degrees in dentistry, allopathic medicine, osteopathic medicine, physician assistant, physical therapy, occupational therapy, optometry, pharmacy, podiatry, and veterinary medicine.

No state supports all the PSEP healthcare professions. Check our state office list to determine if your home state supports your healthcare profession. Typically, a state uses PSEP to educate students in a healthcare profession not offered by one of its state (public) institutions. State support and program participation are subject to change by legislative or administrative action on an annual basis.

For most healthcare professions, you must send your PSEP certification application to your state office by October 15th of the year preceding admission. Veterinary (DVM) applicants are strongly encouraged to certify before September 15th; Montana DVM applicants must certify by September 1st. Most states will not accept late applications; consult with your state for details.

For a current list of cooperating WICHE programs in your field, visit our website.  Apply to the participating schools of your choice. When applying for admission, indicate that you have applied for WICHE certification. You are subject to the application deadlines and academic requirements established by each school. Many programs give preferential consideration to WICHE applicants.

A few states accept applications from students who are already enrolled in a professional program. However, new students always receive first priority. Each state has its own regulations, so check with your home state directly for details.

No. Each state determines how many new students it can assist each year. If there are more applicants with offers of admission than state funds available to support the students, your state will ask WICHE to conduct a ranking of applicants to determine who is most qualified.

Most states choose the “most qualified among the applicants with offers.” WICHE asks cooperating schools to confidentially rank all accepted students from a given state; that information is compiled by WICHE headquarters’ staff in the form of a weighted ranking. The highest ranked applicants are the first to be offered WICHE support. The process is different for applicants seeking enrollment in veterinary medicine. For complete details, download this file.

Veterinary (DVM) applicants are strongly encouraged to certify before September 15th; Montana DVM applicants must certify by September 1st.

For all fields except veterinary medicine, WICHE-certified applicants receive their admissions offers before they know whether or not they will be supported through PSEP. In veterinary medicine, however, the opposite is true. Our participating schools adopted a “cooperative admissions procedure,” which identifies the number of certified applicants to receive WICHE support, based on anticipated legislative appropriations. Then the top-ranked candidates receive WICHE-sponsored offers of admission from the cooperating colleges of veterinary medicine. For complete details, download this file.

To determine your exact tuition charges with WICHE PSEP support, contact your enrolling institution. Keep in mind that the “support fee” funds for each WICHE PSEP student are sent directly to the enrolling institution, not to the student.

If you’re enrolled at a public institution, you will typically pay resident tuition. However, if you’re a new student who enrolled at a public institution beginning fall 2013 or later and the resident/nonresident tuition differential is not fully covered by the support fee, the program can charge you the balance of nonresident tuition less the support fee. 

If you're enrolled in a “self-funded” program at a public institution, where there is no difference between resident and nonresident tuition, then you will pay the balance of the full tuition minus the support fee.

If you're a pharmacy student enrolled at a public institution, the enrolling program may charge you the balance of the support fee minus nonresident tuition; this is because the pharmacy support fee is lower and is not currently set to cover tuition differentials at public institutions.

The institution receives the support fee funds to help cover the tuition differential that a nonresident would normally pay. Public schools receive state tax dollars to supplement the cost of their residents’ education. Nonresidents don’t contribute to those tax dollars, so your home state helps make up the difference by contributing the WICHE PSEP support fee.

If you are enrolled at a private institution, you will pay the balance of private tuition minus the support fee.

PSEP support fees vary by professional program. To find out what the current base support fee amounts are, visit our website. Support fees are sent directly to the program that enrolls our PSEP students, and not to the student directly. One check is mailed on January 15th to cover the current academic year.

Many of our states have a contractual “service payback” obligation, whereby you must return to your home state after graduation and practice your profession for a designated number of years. If you do not return, you must reimburse the support and pay interest penalties, as required by your state. Contact your home state certifying office for details.

It depends. If you have a scholarship that covers the full amount of your tuition (a military or National Health Service Corps scholarship, for example), then you are not eligible to receive WICHE PSEP support. If your scholarship covers any balance of tuition that you owe after your WICHE support, or educational expenses, then you can keep your WICHE support in combination with other awards. If you are unsure, contact your home state certifying office or WICHE’s central office to discuss your situation.

Western Regional Graduate Program (WRGP)

“WRGP” is the Western Regional Graduate Program. It’s a tuition-discounting program similar to the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE) and it is coordinated by WICHE. WRGP enables students from WICHE states (Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming) to enroll in more than 800+ participating graduate programs and pay up to 150 percent of the enrolling institution’s resident tuition rate, instead of the nonresident rate that an out-of-state student would normally pay. WRGP is a tremendous opportunity for Western states to share distinctive programs (and the faculty who teach them) and build their workforce in a variety of disciplines. WRGP is not for short-term exchange—it is meant to be used for a full graduate degree or graduate certificate.

Programs wishing to offer students the WRGP resident rate must seek approval to participate from institution’s provost, vice president of academic affairs, or graduate dean.  

If you are a resident of one of WICHE’s 16 member states/U.S. territories (CNMI and Guam), you are eligible to request the tuition rate offered by 800+ graduate programs (master’s, doctoral, and graduate certificates) offered at 60 participating institutions. To be considered for the WRGP rate, apply directly to the department offering the WRGP program, or contact their graduate studies department.

Read the program’s WRGP profile for eligibility requirements and if you still have questions, contact the program’s WRGP administrator as indicated in the profile (see the link to the WRGP program profiles at the end of this question). Although some programs automatically consider applicants from a WICHE state for the WRGP rate, most of them require that you request the WRGP rate at the time of application for admission. Others may ask you to apply for the WRGP rate through their scholarship or financial aid office.

Please note that WICHE does not set qualification criteria for WRGP applicants, nor do we process applications or participate in the student selection process. Equally important, the WRGP tuition rate is not automatically awarded to all eligible candidates. Most programs must limit the number of new WRGP awards each academic year, so apply early!

Search for a WRGP program

Contact your enrolling institution’s residency office and see what their requirements are. You must prove to their satisfaction that you’re a resident of one of the WICHE states. Please note that since no state support accompanies a WRGP student, your home state typically does not have a formal residency qualification process for WRGP applicants. If you need additional guidance, you may contact the central WICHE office for suggestions.

Most programs extend the WRGP rate to a student for the duration of their graduate studies, or a reasonable time to complete them. Most institutions don’t make you reapply each year, but some do; check directly with your enrolling institution to find out what the rules are. In all cases though, WRGP students must maintain good academic standing to keep their discounted tuition rate.

It depends. WRGP institutions can charge up to 150 percent of resident tuition.

Example 1: If the resident tuition rate at “Best Western University” where you are enrolling is $10,000, and their WRGP tuition is equivalent to resident tuition, then you pay $10,000. If you had to pay the full nonresident rate, you would pay $20,000, so you are saving $10,000 per year!

Example 2: Let’s say you’ve enrolled at Super West University, where their WRGP tuition rate is 125 percent of their resident tuition; you’d pay $12,500 as a WRGP student, instead of $20,000.

Check directly with your enrolling program and institution to determine exact tuition rates and savings.


No. If you want to build time towards establishing residency, institutions require you to pay the full nonresident tuition. Residency policies vary by state (and institution), so check with your institution’s admissions or residency office for written requirements and advice.

No, the WRGP tuition rate is not automatically awarded to all eligible candidates. In fact, most programs are becoming more selective. Even if you meet the program’s WRGP admissions criteria (which can be more rigorous than its regular admissions criteria for in-state residents), there are no guarantees. Many departments must limit the number of new WRGP awards each academic year, so apply early! And make sure you request to be considered for the WRGP rate at the time you apply for admission.

No. In this case, you don’t need WRGP. You will already get the resident tuition rate offered by your home state. WRGP can only help students from Western WICHE states who are leaving their home state and enrolling in a participating graduate program located in the WICHE region but not in their home state.

The number of WRGP awards varies each year. Many institutions and their participating programs do cap the number of WRGP awards. That’s why it’s important to apply for WRGP EARLY—as soon as you apply for admission.

Yes, part-time graduate students are eligible for consideration. However, a department has the prerogative to give priority to full-time students if they wish.

Check directly with the graduate admissions office or the graduate department of the institution where you applied. Our WICHE office does not process student applications, so we cannot tell you whether or not you’ve been awarded the WRGP rate. If you are awarded the WRGP rate, be sure to get it in writing and keep a copy for your personal documentation.

No we haven't, and please don't send WRGP applications to our WICHE office. WICHE oversees the WRGP program but our office does not process student applications. To check the status of your WRGP application, contact the graduate admissions office at the institution where you applied. You can find their contact information in the institution profile on the WRGP Savings Finder.

There is no central WRGP application. Some WGRP programs have their own WRGP application. If they do not, make sure that you indicate you want to be considered for the resident WRGP tuition rate somewhere on the application (whether it is online or a paper application).

Some graduate programs have special admissions requirements for students requesting the WRGP rate. To find out, check the institution profile on the WRGP Savings Finder.

Most institutions require that you apply for the WRGP rate BEFORE you begin classes. You can contact the graduate admissions office or your program’s department to see if it is possible, but it is unlikely that they will award the WRGP rate retroactively. In addition, make sure that if you were awarded the WRGP rate that you have it in writing from your enrolling institution.

No. WRGP exclusively serves the WICHE region of 16 Western U.S. states and territories, but regional interstate compacts in the Midwest, the South, or the Northeast may be able to fill your needs.

Some 60 universities located in the WICHE region participate in WRGP. Please note that WRGP participation is program-based, so not all of an institution’s programs are offered at the WRGP rate—only those that have applied to the network and qualified. To find out whether or not a graduate program that you’re interested in participates in WRGP, check the WRGP Savings Finder. If your program is not listed, then it does not participate in WRGP.

Yes, some do. You can search for online programs in the WRGP Savings Finder or call the graduate school directly for information. 

Sorry. We can’t help you if your institution is located outside of the WICHE region. WRGP programs are located only in the WICHE member states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. Check with your enrolling program’s department to see what other tuition savings programs you might be eligible. You might want to apply for a graduate teaching assistantship; some institutions charge TAs resident tuition as an added benefit.

Most enrolling institutions do not require that applicants show financial need to receive the WRGP rate, but some may use financial need criteria to award the reduced rate to those who demonstrate the greatest need.

Effective for the 2018 academic year and forward, graduate programs no longer need to be distinctive to participate in WRGP. However, programs wishing to offer the WRGP rate will still require approval to participate by the enrolling institution’s provost, vice president for academic affairs, or graduate dean. Begin by contacting your graduate dean to find out how your program can join WRGP.

Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE)

Founded in 1987, the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE, pronounced “woo-ee”) is a regional tuition-discount agreement administered by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE). WUE enables students from one of 16 WICHE states and territories in the Western U.S. to enroll as nonresidents in 160+ participating public colleges and universities and pay 150 percent (or less) of the enrolling school’s resident tuition—which annually saves students an average of $9,610 each on the cost of nonresident tuition.

If you're a resident of one of WICHE’s 16 member states/U.S. territories (CNMI and Guam), you may be eligible for reduced tuition rate offered at 160+ participating WUE schools. Apply directly to your chosen WUE college or university (and not to WICHE itself). Some schools have special eligibility requirements or annual WUE admission quotas, found in that school’s WUE Savings Finder profile. If you still have questions, contact the school’s office that administers WUE (admissions, financial aid, or the scholarship office), as indicated on the profile. Some schools automatically consider applicants from a WICHE state for the WUE rate, but many require that applicants request the WUE rate when applying for admission. Check to see if they have a special WUE application.

Search for a WUE school.


The majority of WUE schools accept transfer students, but some only offer the WUE rate to first-year students. Certain schools offer some, but not all, majors at the WUE rate to transfer students. Some majors are only available to first-year students (at some schools). Check your chosen school’s profile in the WUE Savings Finder to learn more.

Most institutions extend the WUE rate to a student for that school’s typical minimum graduation interval (two years for an associate’s degree program, four years for a bachelor’s degree program). Some also require a minimum credit load each term. Some institutions require that you reapply each year; check directly with your school and follow their rules. You must maintain good academic standing to keep the WUE rate.

Each WUE school’s tuition is different, and some schools lower WUE tuition even more than the 150 percent of resident tuition threshold. A helpful illustration: If Best Western University’s resident tuition is $10,000 for the academic year, then your WUE rate would be $15,000 ($10,000 x 1.5). If their nonresident tuition is $25,000, then you’d save $10,000 ($25,000 - $15,000). Estimated savings are posted on each school’s WUE profile; you can get precise up-to-date figures directly from your enrolling WUE school.

160+ public two- and four-year undergraduate WICHE-region college and universities participate in WUE. Use our WUE Savings Finder to see if a school that you’re interested in participates. Private institutions are not eligible for WUE participation.

No. The reduced WUE rate is not automatically awarded to all eligible candidates. Even if you meet the institution’s WUE admissions criteria (which may be more rigorous than its regular admissions criteria), there are no guarantees. Many institutions limit the number of new WUE awards each academic year, so apply early and be sure to request the WUE rate when applying for admission.

It depends. If you change from a WUE-eligible major to one excluded from the WUE rate at your school, they may charge you full nonresident tuition for the time you’re enrolled under the WUE-ineligible major. If your new major is WUE-eligible, then it’s not a problem.

Check in directly with your chosen school’s relevant office (admissions, scholarships, or financial aid), whose contact information can be found in the WUE Savings Finder.

WICHE itself does not process student applications, so we cannot tell you whether you’ve been awarded the WUE rate. WICHE’s role in WUE is to administrate it broadly in partnership with states and institutions. Submit your application directly to the WUE school where you want to enroll.

Each participating school decides for itself. Some offer all or most of their majors at the WUE rate. Others offer only a handful of majors at the WUE rate due to limited capacity in their higher-demand majors. Check your chosen school's profile in the WUE Savings Finder to see if your major is WUE-eligible.

There is no common WUE application. Some WUE schools have a special WUE application, or a box you must check to request consideration for the WUE tuition rate.

Though most do not, a few do. Find out which schools offer online degrees in the WUE Savings Finder, or by contacting the institution directly.

Probably. Most schools require that you apply for WUE by (if not before) standard pre-term admission deadlines. Though it’s unlikely they’d grant you the discount post-enrollment, you can contact the relevant office at your institution to see if it's possible.

70+ public community colleges in the WICHE region participate, but not all. Check the WUE Savings Finder to find out if a particular school participates.

No. If you want to build time towards establishing residency in another state, schools require you to pay the full nonresident tuition until that residency is legally established. Residency policies vary by state (and college/university), so check with your school’s admissions or residency office for guidance.

The WUE program is intended for first-degree undergraduates. However, an enrolling school may consider awarding WUE to a student pursuing a second undergraduate degree; contact your chosen school to find out.

No. Resident tuition in your home state is already less expensive than nonresident tuition, so the WUE rate—while valuable if you decide to study at a WUE school outside your home state—will not further subsidize your resident tuition rate.

Many schools do cap the number of WUE awards they issue each year or have earlier admissions deadlines for WUE students. For this reason, it’s important to apply for the WUE discount as early as possible; don’t wait to apply until the school’s final deadline for regular admission.

No. WUE exclusively serves the WICHE region of 16 Western U.S. states and territories, but other tuition savings programs operated by the other regional interstate compacts in the Midwest, the South, or the Northeast may be able to fill your needs.

No. WUE admissions criteria generally do not include financial need.

Online Learning for Students and Parents

The demand for online learning has been growing at a frantic pace since the turn of the century. In the United States alone, there were over 4.6 million college students studying online in fall 2008 or more than one in four taking at least one online course according to a research study published by the Sloan Consortium.

Most of the nation’s traditional colleges and universities have added online courses to their offerings and many provide full certificate and degree programs online. In addition, several more recently established for-profit institutions offer a wide range of opportunities to study via the Web. Institutions in other countries, too, are making higher education more accessible via this new digital format to students around the world.

Today, nearly every college student studies online to some extent as most instructors put at least a portion of their course materials online even if their class is offered in a campus classroom. But what about those students who study online from a distance...who never come to campus? Although many institutions report that a majority of the undergraduate students enrolling in their online courses live on campus, other students may live across the country or halfway around the world. These students may be in the traditional 18-24 year age bracket or much older. Most of these adult students are working, living at home, and going to school part time. They may be studying at the undergraduate, graduate, or professional level. Many cannot go to campus or prefer the convenience of studying from home or work.

That depends. Students who are most successful are self-motivated, have clear goals, have set aside appropriate time, and are Web-savvy. Many institutions have a self-assessment tool on their site such as this one to help you gauge your likeliness of success studying online.

The offerings vary by institution. Some colleges and universities offer only a few courses, while others offer complete programs leading to a credential. Students can earn a certificate, an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, or a PhD, JD, or other professional credentials.

From accounting to zoology, students can find programs and courses in most disciplines. Some programs may include one or more on-campus components for those learning modules best addressed in a face-to-face environment. In others, students may never set foot on the campus until they attend graduation—if they even go there then. Today, using webcams and other technologies it’s even possible to participate in your graduation ceremony when you are thousands of miles away from your campus.

Absolutely! Some are completely online, while others we call “hybrids” require students to come to campus or to another location for some activities such as lab work or tests or specific modules or perhaps week long residencies or more. Some have set start and ending times or dates while others are flexible. Some require students to participate in real time activities using chat tools or discussion boards for group activities. Some have deadlines for assignments and assessments, while others are self-paced. Some courses are highly interactive while others require students to work more independently.

No. Some colleges and universities offer a variety of delivery methods including interactive TV, video tape, audio tape, and correspondence. In general, however, many institutions are concentrating on developing courses in the online format in response to student demand and because the online format fosters interaction between students and the instructor and among students more readily.

In most cases, yes, especially if the institution is offering the same credit course both online and face-to-face. But what if you take an online course at an institution other than the one where you are seeking a degree? Usually, there is no distinction on transcripts between online courses and on campus courses. If you have any doubt, however, be wise and check in advance with the registrar, adviser, advising center or other appropriate party at your credential-granting institution.

Another word to the wise: Even though you may be able to transfer a course for credit to your credential-granting institution, it may not articulate (or count) toward your degree program. So you want to ask a two-part question to the appropriate party: will it count and how will it be counted (general education, major, or elective)? Again, check in advance when you wish to transfer a course.

No, online courses are as much work as traditional face-to-face courses. In addition, online courses require that you be well-organized, self-motivated, and have good time management skills. A rule of thumb: If you are taking a three-credit course in a 15-week semester, you should set aside at least six hours per week to participate in class activities and complete assignments.

Keep in mind, too, that online courses usually require a substantial amount of writing. You may be required to share your understanding and opinions in threaded discussions, chat, or other activities as well as in the usual writing assignments. Think about how comfortable you are communicating in writing, especially in asking for help.

Sometimes, yes. Sometimes, no. Tuition is often the same, although some institutions add on a technology or other fees. You may save time and money, however, by eliminating your commute to campus, parking fees, and childcare or other costs. Some campuses may add a distance education or technology fee but then waive fees for services that online students will not need, such as parking, health center and recreation facilities. In-state and out-of-state tuition rules may still apply to online students so there may be a benefit to studying at a school in the state in which you live. Some institutions, however, offer online courses to out-of-state students at the in-state tuition rate.

The rules and requirements for financial aid apply to online students just as they do for on-campus students. Most colleges and universities have a financial aid office with lots of information about loans and scholarships online, but a great place to start is with the U.S. Department of Education’s Free Application for Federal Financial Aid, called FAFSA for short. Check it out! Start with the tab called Student Aid on the Web for lots of good resources whether you plan to go to school on campus or online. The FAFSA site is now available in Spanish too.

If you have a particular institution in mind, search its website for “distance education” or “online education”. If you want to search all the institutions in your state or across the country, you can use the U.S. Department of Education’s College Navigator. It won’t tell you if the program is online, but it does have may cool tools to help you search and compare programs. You can even save your favorites so that you can visit their sites to see if the program is offered online. If you are particularly interested in online programs offered by regionally-accredited institutions located in the WICHE states, you can search through those online programs listed on WICHE’s Internet Course Exchange (ICE).

Start by looking on the websites of institutions located near you or ones with which you are familiar. Your state may have a statewide distance learning web portal to help you find courses from all or most of the public institutions in the state. Many community colleges have an “open door” policy so you may be able to enroll right away. Other two-year schools and colleges and universities may have a two-part process: you must apply for admission and be accepted before enrolling in a course. This can take several weeks unless the school has a “quick admit” process which offers immediate and/or conditional acceptance for enrolling in a limited number of courses. Just be sure to check with your advisor at your home institution before enrolling if you are planning to transfer the course.

There are so many more schools to select from when you choose to study online because you are not limited geographically. If you are just taking a course for enrichment and don’t need to acquire credit, look for the best fit for your needs in terms of content, cost, and convenience. If you want to earn a certificate or degree—or take a credit-based course to satisfy a requirement—you should make sure that the college or university is accredited by an agency recognized by your institution for transfer. Again, you can use the U.S. Department of Education’s College Navigator and then visit the websites of those that interest you to determine what they offer online. If you want to study online at an institution in the WICHE states, check out those institutions with online programs listed on WICHE’s Internet Course Exchange (ICE).

Accreditation is a process used by higher education to evaluate colleges, universities, and educational programs for quality and to assess their efforts toward continuous quality improvement. Accreditation is conducted by private, not-for-profit organizations designed specifically to conduct external quality reviews. In the United States, there are regional accrediting organizations operating in six different regions of the country. These organizations review degree-granting nonprofit and for-profit institutions within their regions, both two-year and four-year schools. Regional accrediting bodies accredit colleges and universities that operate totally online, just as they accredit traditional institutions.

Regional accreditation ensures that an institution’s academic program meets acceptable levels of quality. Institutions must be accredited by a federally recognized accrediting agency to qualify for participation in federal financial aid programs that provide low cost loans to students. Oftentimes, too, employers want to verify the accreditation of a college or university before they will pay for tuition or fees as part of a company-sponsored benefits program.

Attending a regionally accredited institution is an important consideration if you think you might want to transfer credits to another institution or will want to pursue admission to graduate programs later on. Regionally accredited colleges and universities typically accept credits from other regionally accredited institutions. Each individual institution may decide which transfer credits to accept, however.

The regional accrediting bodies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the states (WICHE states underlined) whose institutions they oversee are:

♦ Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools

Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, and Virgin Islands

♦ New England Association of Schools and Colleges

Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont

♦ The Higher Learning Commission—North Central Association of Colleges and Schools

Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming

♦ Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities

Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington

♦ Southern Association of Colleges and Schools

Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia

♦ Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities—Western Association of Schools and Colleges

Four-year institutions in California, Hawaii, American Somoa, Guam, Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of the Marshall Islands, and Republic of Palau.

♦ Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges—Western Association of Schools and Colleges

Two-year institutions in California, Hawaii, American Somoa, Guam, Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of the Marshall Islands, and Republic of Palau.


There are also national, professional and specialized accrediting bodies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Credits earned at nationally accredited schools may not transfer to regionally accredited institutions but still may be suitable for some students’ needs. For example, some postsecondary schools of cosmetology are accredited by the National Accrediting Commission of Cosmetology Arts and Sciences.

Some professions or employers may require that an institution, department, or program have professional or specialized accreditation recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. For example, the Landscape Architectural Accreditation Board of the American Society of Landscape Architects accredits baccalaureate and master’s programs leading to the first professional degree in landscape architecture while the American Bar Association accredits programs in legal education and professional schools of law. Some accrediting bodies such as the National Association of Schools of Art and Design accredit both degree-granting and non-degree granting schools that are predominantly organized to offer education in art, design, or art/design related disciplines. Thus, some institutions will be both regionally accredited and have some additional national, professional, or specialized accreditations.

For more information, go to U.S. Department of Education’s overview of accreditation. If you are confused by some of the accreditation terminology, check out the Department’s glossary.

That is an important question! Periodically, we get inquiries from students who have received information about a school that claims to be accredited but on further investigation it appears that the accrediting body is bogus. This is an easy scam in the online world so if the accrediting body is not listed above, make sure it is included on CHEA’s list, Recognized Accrediting Organizations.

Again, if you are simply taking a non credit course for pleasure or enrichment, you might just look for the best fit for your needs. If you need to take a course for credit that will transfer to an institution in the U.S. or want to earn a degree that will be recognized in the states, you should check the list of institutions recognized by Council of Higher Education Accreditors and check with the U.S. school where you expect to transfer later.

The American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) hosts EDGE (Electronic Database for Global Education) that provides information about the educational systems in other countries. There is a fee to use this database, so talk with the registrar at your local college or university who may be able to check on a foreign school for you.

Never pay money to an online degree provider in a foreign country until you have thoroughly investigated the school and the nation’s educational system, otherwise you may find the degree invalid in the U.S.

If you know which college or university you want to attend, call the admission’s office and ask about having the records from your former school evaluated. Alternatively, for a fee you can have your prior education evaluated through AACRAO’s Foreign Education Credential Service.

Look carefully through the campus website. Can you access all the student services you may need online such as academic advising, library and bookstore services, technical and tutoring services or do you have to go to campus for these services? Are the services available at a time that will work with your schedule? What are the technical requirements for online courses and does your computer system meet them? For example, do courses use a lot of streaming media that requires broadband access?

Is the content on the campus site up to date, consistent and informative? Is it easy to find what you are looking for and to find out who and how to contact the staff when it isn’t? Are communication standards posted so you know when to expect a reply?

In selecting a program, are all courses taught online or do some have an on-campus component? How long has the online program been in existence? Can you transfer credits into the program you have earned elsewhere? Where are former students employed? Make a list of questions and send them to the contact for each program you are interested in and then compare the responses.

In selecting a class, what are the instructor’s credentials? What is her field of study and experience teaching at this and other institutions? Is she experienced in teaching online courses which requires doing things differently than in the face to face classroom?

What do former students say about their experiences in a particular program or a certain class—information you may find provided by the campus on the site or you may want to look at one of the many comparison websites to learn more about the institution or the instructor. Adult students can compare some institutions and programs at College Choices for Adults.

Many students do, but it is important to be realistic about the workload for each and how the deadlines mesh together. Moreover, make sure you get approval in advance from the registrar or advising staff at your primary institution for each course you want to transfer for credit.

Sometimes students think they can just take courses at multiple campuses and then apply them to a degree at a different institution later. This can be problematic. For example, an institution or a program may have a limit on the number of transfer credits they accept toward a degree or certificate. So a word to the wise: thoroughly review the admissions requirements and regulations for your destination school as early as possible.

Another issue is that students may only accept most types of financial aid from one institution at a time. Campuses may or may not have agreements to allow students to use aid from one campus at another one. Again, check with the financial aid officer at your primary campus.

Great question! Too many students start taking courses without any goals in mind. Later, they find out that the courses they have taken will not be helpful for the credential or employment they are seeking. They end up spending more time and money taking the right courses to meet their goal, and often delve further into debt.

Most colleges and universities have a career services center where you can talk with a counselor and also take a series of assessments to help you determine your interests and strengths. Many institutions make these services available to their current and prospective students online.

Or try the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) CareerOneStop. Click on the link for students. You’ll find a wide range of resources to help you explore your interests, and learn about different careers and what kinds of education and training are required for them. And don’t miss DOL’s Financial Aid Advisor where you can learn about scholarships and funding sources in your state.

Most states have employment sites, too, with many kinds of resources to help you learn about future employment trends, average salaries, and job openings.

Getting a degree online is a relatively new way to learn but acceptance has grown quickly among most employers. In general, online degrees from regionally accredited colleges are widely accepted, while those from other providers may not be, especially if you are seeking public employment or work in licensed professions. To be on the safe side, check with your employer or prospective employer in advance. In addition, check with your institution to see if the word “online” will be included on your diploma.

WICHE ICE is an administrative tool institutions can use to share extra seats in online courses. It allows students to register and use their financial aid at their home institution for online courses taught by an instructor at another ICE member institution. It can be especially helpful when a student can’t enroll in a course on his/her campus because it is full or when she has a special interest in a topic not offered at his home school like the Alaska students who take certain social work courses at the University of Wyoming. The courses exchanged through ICE appear on the student’s transcript as though they were taught by his home institution, so no transfer hassles later. Visit the list of ICE members to see if your institution participates in ICE. If it does, look in your catalog or schedule of classes for information about what courses are available through this program or contact your institution’s ICE PIC (Program Information Coordinator).

Check out The Distance Learner’s Guide, authored by WCET, from your local library or order it from Pearson Education, Amazon, or another online bookstore.