State Highlights

WICHE and Colorado

Partnering for Six Decades
Year joined: 


► Tens of thousands of students from Colorado have attended undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs in other Western states through WICHE’s Student Exchange Program. In just one of the programs, the Western Undergraduate Exchange, Colorado students and their families have saved $227.8 million since 1988, when the program was founded.

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

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


Return on Investment.

► In 2015-16 Colorado, its institutions, and its students saved or brought in more than $26.2 million through WICHE and spent $141,000 for membership in the commission, yielding a 186-fold return on investment.

► In the last 5 years, Colorado savings from WUE alone have topped $86 million, yielding a 131-fold return on the state’s investment in WICHE.

Student Savings
Student Savings WUE: 
Student Savings WRGP: 
Student Savings PSEP: 
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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. Colorado was among the first WICHE states to become a member of W-SARA in this reciprocal relationship. 

Colorado 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 Colorado’s students and families saved $21.1 million. Colorado saved money, too, through not having to establish and maintain costly programs in a number of areas, including some in healthcare.

Western Undergraduate Exchange. Colorado students have enrolled in undergraduate programs beyond Colorado’s borders through the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE) since 1988. In 2015-16, 2,578 students from Colorado are enrolled in out-of-state programs at reduced rates (150 percent of resident tuition), saving more than $19.2 million in tuition and fees – the average student savings amounted to $7,478. In the last 10 years, students have saved $158.9 million

Colorado benefits from WUE in another way: by receiving students from out of state. Colorado’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 Colorado after graduating. In 2015-16 Colorado received 3,503 students through WUE.

Professional Student Exchange Program. Colorado has sent 343 students to professional programs through the Professional Student Exchange Program (PSEP), with 23 students currently studying optometry. In addition, in 2015-16 the state received 177 students and some $5.1 million in support fees from other Western states. Historically, some 87 percent of PSEP students return to Colorado to pursue their professional careers.

Western Regional Graduate Program. Colorado’s postgraduates also participate in graduate programs through the Western Regional Graduate Program (WRGP), which offers access to to 380 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. WRGP programs run the gamut, but emerging social, environmental, and resource-management fields are particular strengths, as are innovative interdisciplinary programs. In 2015-16 Colorado sent 96 students to out-of-state institutions, while receiving 427.

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.

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

Policy & Workforce Development.

Colorado has participated in projects supporting better-informed decision making at the state level. In conjunction with the Center for Urban Education (CUE) at the University of Southern California, WICHE was commissioned by the Colorado Department of Higher Education (CDHE) to conduct an audit and analysis of equity policies in the state. The Equity in Excellence project assisted state leaders with the implementation of Colorado’s education reform agenda by providing detailed information about current policy and practice in an effort to help achieve the goals laid out in the state’s master plan and make those policies equitable for all students.  

The implementation of the Common Core Standards (CCSS) or other similar academic standards is well underway in most states, and the corresponding assessment systems are set to go live in the current academic year. 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. Colorado 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.

Colorado State University, Colorado State University-Pueblo and Metropolitan State University of Denver 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 Colorado Community College System office and the 13 community college campuses are members.


Several Colorado colleges and universities are active participants in 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.

Colorado has been the home office location for WICHE and its Mental Health Program since the late 1950s, although initially the program was located within the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Utah. WICHE has been actively engaged in Colorado for several years supporting needs assessment, planning efforts for the statewide crisis response system, and behavioral health workforce development.

New in FY 2015 has been the emerging partnership with the Veterans Administration Rocky Mountain Mental Illness Research Education Clinical Center (MIRECC) to develop a comprehensive suicide-prevention strategy for veterans and their families residing in rural areas. FY 2015 projects in Colorado also include:

► Development of the rural Colorado Psychology Internship Consortium.

► Behavioral health system needs analysis for the Colorado Office of Behavioral Health, including the projected demand for state psychiatric inpatient beds.

► Evaluation of the Mental Health First Aid Colorado initiative run by the Colorado Behavioral Healthcare Council and funded by the Office of Behavioral Health.

► Technical assistance to the Office of Behavioral Health’s Data Integration Initiative to align mental health and substance use data with each other, Medicaid, and new health information technology.

Other Initiatives.

Colorado College and the University of Northern Colorado participate in the Master Property Program (MPP), which helps institutions reduce their insurance premiums and improve their coverage. Created by the Midwestern Higher Education Compact (MHEC) 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. The University of Colorado System participates along with Metropolitan State University of Denver. 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.

Former Commissioners.

Joseph Garcia, Colorado Lieutenant Governor and executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education; D. Rico Munn, partner, Baker & Hostetler; Kaye Howe, executive director, National Science Digital Library; David E. Skaggs, co-chair, Office of Congressional Ethics Board and former executive director, Colorado Department of Higher Education; William Byers, public relations manager of Grand Valley Power; William Hybl, chairman and CEO of El Pomar Foundation; Jenna D. Langer, vice president of operations and general counsel, CSU-Global Campus, and former executive director, Colorado Commission on Higher Education (CCHE); Rick O'Donnell, former chair, CCHE; William G. Kuepper III, senior policy advisor, CCHE; Tim Foster, president, Colorado Mesa College, Grand Junction; Debbie Allen, former legislator and business owner, Aurora; Audrey Alvarado, senior consultant, Mosaica, and former executive director of the National Council of Nonprofit Associations in Washington, D.C.; Joe D. May, president, Louisiana Community and Technical College System, and former president, Colorado Community College and Occupational Education System; M. Lee White, executive vice president of the George K. Baum & Co.; Anthony Rechlitz, lawyer, Denver; and WICHE President David A. Longanecker, former assistant secretary, U.S. Department of Education.