State Highlights

WICHE and Arizona

Partnering for Six Decades
Year joined: 


► Tens of thousands of students from Arizona 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, Arizona students and their families have saved some $96.7 million since 1998, when Arizona began using the program.

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

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

Return on investment.

► In 2015-16 Arizona saved or brought in $19.3 million through WICHE and spent $141,000 for membership in the commission, yielding a 137-fold return on investment.

► In the last 5 years, Arizona students’ savings from WUE alone have added up to $48.5 million, yielding a 74-fold return on the state’s investment in WICHE.

Student Savings
Student Savings WUE: 
Student Savings WRGP: 
Student Savings PSEP: 
Student Savings Total: 
PSEP Revenue: 
Grand Total: 

Programs and Participation.

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 initially was funded by $3.2 million in grants from Lumina Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and is now supported by 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. Arizona is among the WICHE states that are members of W-SARA in this reciprocal relationship.

Arizona 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 2015-16 Arizona’s students and families saved over $16.4 million. Arizona saved money, too, through not having to establish and maintain costly programs in a number of areas, including some in healthcare.

Western Undergraduate Exchange. Arizona students have enrolled in undergraduate programs beyond Arizona’s borders through the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE) since 1998. In 2015-16, 1,510 students from Arizona are enrolled in out-of-state programs at reduced rates (150 percent of resident tuition), saving more than $11.6 million in tuition and fees – the average student savings amounted to $7,716. In the last 10 years, students have saved $79.7 million.

Arizona benefits from WUE in another way: by receiving students from out of state. Arizona’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 Arizona after graduating. In 2015-16 Arizona received 7,370 students through WUE.

Professional Student Exchange Program. Arizona has sent 2,558 students to professional programs through the Professional Student Exchange Program (PSEP), with students studying in a host of critical fields, including dentistry, occupational therapy, optometry, physician assistant, osteopathic medicine, and veterinary medicine. Historically, 83 percent of PSEP students return to Arizona to pursue their professional careers. In addition, in 2015-16 the state received 150 students and some $2.8 million in support fees from other Western states.

Western Regional Graduate Program. Arizona’s postgraduates also participate in graduate programs through the Western Regional Graduate Program (WRGP), which offers access to 380 high-quality, distinctive programs (“distinctive” meaning they’re offered at only four or fewer institutions in the WICHE region) at 60 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 2015-16 Arizona sent 83 students to out-of-state institutions, while receiving 442.

The Interstate Passport is an outcomes-based framework for block transfer of lower division general education. Developed by faculty, registrars, institutional researchers, and academic advisors at two- and four-year institutions in seven states (California, Hawaii, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming), the framework addresses barriers to degree completion posed by uneven transfer policies and practices across states. Institutions in four other WICHE states (Colorado, Idaho, Montana, and New Mexico) and additional states outside the region are involved in its Phase III expansion and scaling efforts to build a nationwide infrastructure supporting friction-free transfer for Passport students. By earning a Passport, students who transfer to another Passport institution will have their learning recognized regardless of differences in course titles and credits, and will not be required to repeat courses to meet general education requirements.  

WICHE’s Added Value.

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

Policy & Workforce Development.

Arizona has been an active participant in projects to support better-informed decision making at the state level. WICHE initiatives have been sponsored by the Ford Foundation, Lumina Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education, and others. Teams of policymakers and educational leaders from Arizona participate each year in regional policy forums and meetings hosted by WICHE. WICHE has also worked closely with Arizona decision makers in a number of key areas, including performance funding, the alignment of college education with workforce demand, and financial aid.

Arizona 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. A central topic was how to address the challenges to data sharing presented by Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

The implementation of new common academic standards and assessments is well underway in most states. As implementation continues, there are a variety of challenges that K-12 and higher education leaders will face in the coming years related to student movement across state lines. To begin the conversation about these challenges, WICHE, with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, convened higher education and K-12 leaders from the Western region and additional bordering states in October 2014. Arizona was one of 17 states along with the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands to participate.

The Adult College Completion (ACC) Network, funded by Lumina Foundation, is a 750-member learning network that unites organizations and agencies working to increase college completion by adults with prior college credits but no degree. Activities include an annual workshop, a webinar series, publications, a listserv, and other resources. The ACC Network and WICHE have become national leaders in the area of adult learners and continue to be an important resource to those who strive to better serve non-traditional students.

The State Higher Education Policy Database (SHEPD) is WICHE’s online searchable database. It provides state and national policymakers, education leaders, practitioners, and education consumers with an inventory of state-level policies and resources in key issue areas related to access and success in higher education. It contains a blog and an electronic SHEPD alert distribution list to keep subscribers current on important updates. A related resource is the Policy Publications Clearinghouse, a depository of publications, reports, and briefs related to higher education.

Additionally, the Arizona Board of Regents and the University of Arizona participate in 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 Maricopa Community Colleges and all its institutions are members, as are the Arizona Western College, Eastern Arizona College, and Yavapai College. The Forum and the Alliance held their 2012 annual meetings in Phoenix, and the Alliance returned to Tempe in 2014.


Arizona has been involved with the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET) the leader in the practice, policy, and advocacy of technology-enhanced learning in higher education. WCET is widely recognized as one of the most informative, reliable, and forward-thinking organizations regarding the role of technology and innovation in higher education. Our growing membership includes more than 350 institutions, state and system-wide higher education agencies, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and corporations in nearly all U.S. states and many Canadian provinces. WCET member institutions actively serve more than 4 million college students taking all or part of their academic programs via technology. WCET members have access to trusted information on emerging trends, policies, and exemplars of successful learning technology innovation in practice. Key WCET activities include an annual meeting, leadership summits, national webcasts, and email list-based discussions among members. Major topics of interest to the WCET membership include student success, faculty success, managing e-learning, emerging technologies, and evolving policy issues.

Mental Health

Activity in Arizona increased dramatically in the past year, as the Department of Health issued a major Medicaid behavioral health contract to a new vendor, Aetna – Mercy Maricopa Integrated Care (MMIC), which serves the Maricopa County area (Metro Phoenix). Additionally, on Jan. 8, 2014, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer announced that a final agreement had been reached in the Arnold v. Sarn class-action lawsuit, which was filed in 1981 by Charles L. “Chick” Arnold on behalf of individuals with serious mental illnesses. These two developments increased WICHE’s engagement in the success of the Arizona behavioral health system, including:

► Continuing engagement with the Arizona State Hospital in the promotion of a culture of safety, and other quality care initiatives.

► WICHE’s deployment of a medical director for the Division of Behavioral Health. In late FY15 a portion of this position funding transferred to MMIC with a focus on integrated care and support for the implementation of evidence-based practices (EBPs).

► WICHE management and deployment of an EBP Fidelity Review Team, to support the quality improvement of Assertive Community Treatment, Supported Employment, Permanent Supported Housing, and Consumer Operated Services that are a part of the pathway to the Arnold settlement.

► Technical assistance to MMIC relating to EBPs integration with a new first-episode psychosis initiative.

► Development of training and quality improvement activities related to EBP fidelity, jointly funded by the Division of Behavioral Health and MMIC.

Other Initiatives

The Pima County Community College system, with six campuses and four learning and education centers, participates in the Master Property Program (MPP). The program 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 160 campuses with total insured values of over $103 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 hardware and software products and services from competitively bid purchasing agreements to reduce costs.

Former Commissioners.

Leah Bornstein, president, Coconino Community College; Tom Anderes, former president, Arizona Board of Regents; David Lorenz, former vice president of administration and finance, Northern Arizona University; Joel Sideman, former executive director, Arizona Board of Regents; John Haeger, former president, Northern Arizona University; Linda Blessing, former executive director, Arizona Board of Regents; Lawrence Gudis, managing partner, Delfipartners; Frank Besnette (WICHE chair, 1999), former executive director, Arizona Board of Regents; former Rep. Daniel Schottel as well as Jaime Gutierrez, vice president for external relations, University of Arizona; and Molly Broad, president of the American Council on Education and former executive director of the Arizona Board of Regents.