Since 1953 Oregon has been a member of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE), a 16-member commission working to boost access to higher education for students in the West and, as importantly, to ensure their success.
In the six-plus decades since Oregon joined the commission, the state has benefitted in a number of essential ways.
Tens of thousands of students from Oregon have attended undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs in other Western states through WICHE’s Student Exchange Program, saving millions of dollars in all, thanks to reduced tuition rates. In just one of the programs, the Western Undergraduate Exchange, Oregon students have saved $169 million since 1989, when the state joined the program. (See “Doing the Math,” below, for Oregon’s return on investment.)
Oregon has received funding to be part of numerous WICHE policy initiatives, including those focused on financing and financial aid, workforce policy, and other areas.
Oregon has participated in WICHE initiatives related to distance education, workforce development, and behavioral health.
WICHE and Oregon have shared a remarkably fruitful history. But their prospects for the future are even more exciting.
In 2014-15 Oregon, its institutions, and its students saved or brought in some $15.3 million through WICHE and spent $137,000 for membership in the commission, yielding a 111-fold return on investment.
In the last 5 years, Oregon savings from WUE alone have totaled more than $62 million, yielding a 96-fold return on the state’s investment in WICHE.
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 is funded by a $3 million grant from Lumina Foundation, $200,000 from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and 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. Oregon is among the WICHE states that are members of W-SARA in this reciprocal relationship.
Oregon 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 2014-15 Oregon’s students and families saved $13.5 million. Oregon saved money, too, through not having to establish and maintain costly programs in a number of areas, including some in healthcare.
Western Undergraduate Exchange. Oregon students have enrolled in undergraduate programs beyond Oregon’s borders through the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE) since 1989. In 2014-15, 1,449 students from Oregon are enrolled in out-of-state programs at reduced rates (150 percent of resident tuition), saving $12.1 million in tuition and fees – the average student savings amounted to $8,328. In the last 10 years, students have saved $113.1 million.
Oregon benefits from WUE in another way: by receiving students from out of state. Oregon’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 Oregon after graduating. In 2014-15 Oregon received 2,401 students through WUE.
Professional Student Exchange Program. Oregon sent 1,258 students to professional programs through the Professional Student Exchange Program (PSEP), with students studying in a host of critical fields in the health sciences. Currently, Oregon is a PSEP receiving state, with 87 students enrolled in professional programs, bringing in almost $1.7 million in revenue.
Western Regional Graduate Program. Oregon’s postgraduates also participate in graduate programs through the Western Regional Graduate Program (WRGP), which offers access to 346 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, with more programs being added in spring 2015. WRGP programs run the gamut, but emerging social, environmental, and resource-management fields are particular strengths, as are innovative interdisciplinary programs. In 2014-15 Oregon sent 100 students to out-of-state institutions, while receiving 91.
The Interstate Passport is a new framework for block transfer of completed lower-division general education requirements that is based on learning outcomes and transfer-level proficiency criteria. Conceived in 2011 the project addresses barriers to degree completion posed by uneven transfer policies and practices across states. The two-year pilot project (Phase I) ended in April 2014 with the first part of the framework complete. Phase II, due to be completed in fall 2016, is underway with the participation of over 20 two- and four-year institutions in seven states (CA, HI, ND, OR, SD, UT, and WY). Students who transfer with the Passport will have their learning recognized regardless of differences in course titles and credits, and will not be required to repeat general education coursework.
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.
WICHE’s Added Value
Oregon gains added value from WICHE’s programs in policy, workforce development, technology, mental health, and other areas.
Policy & Workforce Development. Oregon 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. Oregonians also keep current on pressing policy issues developing all over the nation through WICHE’s extensive network.
Oregon is one of four states participating in the Gates-funded Facilitating Development of a Multistate Longitudinal Data Exchange pilot project, which 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. The state also participated in a Gates-funded meeting in 2008, which 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. Another meeting was the Western Summit on Workforce Certification and Higher Education for policymakers in the West, held in response to the national demand for more highly skilled workers in a host of fields, from healthcare to high tech. Participants explored how states might use a workforce certification system – which would allow business and higher education to communicate with a common language about workforce demand and supply – to improve their ability to prepare individuals for productive careers and enhance the health of their economies.
WICHE staff provided intensive technical assistance to the gubernatorially appointed Access and Affordability Working Group. WICHE offered expertise and modeling for a wholesale redesign of the state’s principal student financial aid program. The proposed program was enacted into law; WICHE continues to be consulted on program management.
WICHE’s Lumina-funded project Getting What You Pay For: Understanding Higher Education Appropriations, Tuition, and Financial Aid (GWYPF) 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 Oregon Legislature. In addition, last year WICHE President David Longanecker, along with National Center for Higher Education Management Systems President Dennis Jones, met with state leaders in Oregon and addressed a joint hearing of the education and workforce development committees of both the House and Senate about the role, scope, and mission of higher education, with a particular focus on mission creep, a topic of one of the GWYPF policy briefs. Longanecker worked with the Legislature on developing a new higher education governance structure and with the Governor’s Office on creating a new state education investment board.
Oregon 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 Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission, Portland State University, Pacific University, Oregon State University, and University of Oregon are members of the Western Academic Leadership Forum (the Forum), whose members address regional higher education issues and engage in cooperative resource sharing. The Western Alliance for Community College Academic Leaders (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. The Oregon Department of Community Colleges and Workforce Development, Central Oregon Community College, Southwestern Oregon Community College, Umpqua Community College, Chemeketa Community College, Treasure Valley Community College, Portland Community College, and Mount Hood Community College are members.
Technology. Several Oregon colleges and universities are active participants in the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET), a national membership organization that advances access and excellence in higher education through the innovative use of technology. WCET has consulted with and written grants for the Western Institute of Nursing at Oregon Health & Science University with the Nursing Education Exchange (NEXus) project.
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. The program performed a cost-benefit analysis for the State of Oregon of an early-intervention program designed for persons with serious, early-onset psychiatric disorders. Also in the area of acute care services, the WICHE MHP conducted a review of the current safety and security protocols and processes at the Oregon State Hospital. This project included a tour of the facility, key informant interviews with leadership and direct care staff as well as interviews and document reviews of protocols from three (3) other Western state hospitals. A report of findings and recommendations was developed to improve the safety and security of the hospital and to streamline some of the existing processes. The program is also collaborating with the Oregon State Hospital to facilitate the development of a doctoral psychology internship program. The program will matriculate its first cohort of interns in the summer of 2015, and will seek accreditation by the American Psychological Association in the winter of 2015. This program will draw and facilitate the retention of high-quality professionals.
Other Initiatives. Lewis & Clark College, Reed College, and Willamette University are members of the Master Property Program (MPP), which helps institutions reduce their insurance premiums and improve their coverage. Created by the Midwestern Higher Education Compact (MHEC) and expanded to the WICHE region, 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. The Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses of the University of Alaska participate in MHECare. 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.
Tim Nesbitt, consultant and columnist; James Sager, superintendent, Northwest Regional Education Service District; Diane Vines, associate professor, School of Nursing, University of Portland; George E. Richardson, Jr., former manager of federal and local government relations and community affairs at NW Natural, Portland; Nicki Harrington, former president, Blue Mountain Community College; Roger Bassett, member, State Board of Education; and Loren Wyss, president of the Wyss Foundation.