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The WICHE Commission’s May meeting in Las Vegas focused on some of the most critical topics in higher education today. The first plenary session honed in on “eScience,” with the University of Washington’s Ed Lazowska, the Bill & Melinda Gates Chair of Computer Science & Engineering, reporting on this new form of computational science, which marries leading-edge techniques such as data mining and machine learning with new technologies like next-generation broadband networking and cloud computing (see an earlier eScience presentation by Lazowska for more details). In another session, student financial assistance was the timely topic: speakers Sandy Baum, Skidmore College economics professor and College Board senior policy analyst, and Spencer Foundation President Michael McPherson reported on the work of the Rethinking Student Aid study group, a foundation-funded effort under the auspices of the College Board that recently released proposals for reforming the federal student aid system. Two other plenary sessions looked at the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act with Paul Lingenfelter, president of the State Higher Education Executive Officers, and WICHE President David Longanecker discussing how the act may affect the nation and the West.
Three other hot-button issues are covered in recent publications by WICHE staffers and associates. One new release relates to how we pay for higher education—specifically, to the success of the nation’s first and, to date, only voucher‐based system for financing higher education statewide: Colorado’s College Opportunity Fund. WICHE’s David Longanecker and Brian Prescott provide a history and analysis of the program in An Evaluation of Colorado’s College Opportunity Fund and Related Policies, a report prepared for the Colorado Department of Higher Education, with support from the Donnell‐Kay Foundation.
With higher education budgets shrinking at a time when enrollments are near their peak, WICHE offers institutions and their students a solid solution to wait lists: the Internet Course Exchange, whose members—including colleges and universities in Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming—allow students to seamlessly register for online courses offered by other member institutions. Read more about WICHE ICE in “The Time Is Right for ICE”, a white paper written by Mark Wheeler, dean of extended studies at Boise State University and the new chair of the ICE Executive Committee (the new vice chair is Fred Hurst, Northern Arizona University’s vice president for extended programs and dean of distance learning).
Student mental health is the focus of third piece, authored by Nicole Speer, research and technical assistant in WICHE’s Mental Health Program, along with the program’s director, Dennis Mohatt, and associate director, Mimi McFaul. Their article, “How to Create a First-Aid Program for the Mind”, is available to Chronicle of Higher Education subscribers.
Look for more publications on a wide range of higher ed topics at WICHE’s Policy Publications Clearinghouse, an online searchable database of policy publications, continuously updated by the Policy Analysis and Research unit and including studies, reports, surveys, and policy briefs published by research and public policy organizations
This spring WICHE hosted a slew of meetings related to current programs and projects. The Western Academic Leadership Forum annual meeting, held in April in Anchorage, was themed “Taking Stock: Strategic Leadership in Changing Times” and included a keynote speech from the American Council on Education’s Terry Hartle on the critical issues facing higher education in the West, the impact of the economic downturn, and the prospects for economic stimulus funding for student aid and university infrastructure projects. Follow-ups to December’s “Fostering Collaborative State-Level Education and Workforce Database Development” meeting, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, were held in South Dakota and Alaska, with the goal of exposing a wider array of state leaders to the lessons learned in state efforts to develop longitudinal data systems spanning K-12, postsecondary, and workforce information. In a related meeting, held in Olympia, Washington, representatives from Hawaii, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington launched a discussion of a prototype framework for an interstate data exchange focused on these areas. WICHE’s Non-traditional No More project—which targets “ready adults,” those who are close to having earned a degree but have not yet returned to college, to increase degree attainment—held meetings in Arkansas, Colorado, Nevada, South Dakota, and New Jersey to assist states in identifying ways to reduce barriers in policy and practice that prevent such adults from returning to college. WICHE also held a meeting of the College Access Challenge Grant (CACG) Network in April in Las Vegas, where representatives from Alaska, Nevada, North Dakota, and Washington convened to share information, challenges, and solutions related to the administration of their CACG programs.