State Highlights

WICHE and Montana

Partnering for Over Six Decades
Year joined: 


► Tens of thousands of students from Montana 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, Montana students have saved $107 million since 1988, when the program was founded.

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

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

Return on Investment.

► In 2015-16 Montana, its institutions, and its students saved or brought in some $7.8 million through WICHE and spent $141,000 for membership in the commission, yielding a 55-fold return on investment.

► In the last 5 years, Montana savings from WUE alone have totaled over $26.4 million, yielding a 40-fold return on the state’s investment in WICHE.

Student Savings
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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. Montana is among the first WICHE states to become a member of W-SARA in this reciprocal relationship.

Montana 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 Montana’s students and families saved some $7.8 million. Montana saved money, too, through not having to establish and maintain costly programs in a number of areas, including some in healthcare.

Western Undergraduate Exchange.Montana students have enrolled in undergraduate programs beyond Montana’s borders through the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE) since 1988. In 2015-16, 1,021 students from Montana are enrolled in out-of-state programs at reduced rates (150 percent of resident tuition), saving $5.2 million in tuition and fees – the average student savings amounted to $5,136. In the last 10 years, students have saved $55 million

Montana benefits from WUE in another way: by receiving students from out of state. Montana’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 Montana after graduating. In 20115-16 Montana received 2,660 students through WUE.

Professional Student Exchange Program. Montana has sent some 1,558 students to professional programs through the Professional Student Exchange Program (PSEP), with students studying in a host of critical fields, including dentistry, medicine, occupational therapy, optometry, osteopathic medicine, podiatry, and veterinary medicine. Historically, 60 percent of PSEP students return to Montana to pursue their professional careers. In addition, in 2015-16 the state received four students and $50,425 in support fees from other Western states.

Western Regional Graduate Program. Montana’s students also enroll in graduate and certificate 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 Montana sent 44 students to out-of-state institutions, while receiving 37.

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.

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

Policy & Workforce Development.

Montana has participated in projects supporting better-informed decision making at the state level. WICHE initiatives have been sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Ford Foundation, Lumina Foundation, 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 workforce needs, balancing the financial aid portfolio, educational policy and practice, and demographic change. 
The implementation of the Common Core Standards (CCSS) or other similar academic standards is well underway in most states, and the corresponding assessment systems went live in this 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. Montana 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.
Montana participated in a Gates-funded meeting that 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.

Additionally, the Montana University System, MSU Bozeman, MSU Northern, and the University of Montana are members of the Western Academic Leadership Forum (the Forum), whose members address regional higher education issues and engage in resource sharing. The Western Alliance for Community College Academic Leaders (the Alliance) will bring 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 Montana University System, Missoula College, City College at Montana State University, Highlands College of Montana Tech, Flathead Valley Community College, and Great Falls College Montana State are members. Montana will host a joint annual meeting of the Forum and the Alliance in Missoula, April 20-22, 2016, with the theme “At the Confluence: Academic Leaders Steering their Communities Forward.”


Several Montana 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.

For the past several years, WICHE has worked with Mental Health America-Montana to explore ways for Native American systems of care to offer a fuller range of services that can be reimbursed by Medicaid, Medicare, and other insurers.

Other Initiatives.

Another initiative, the Master Property Program (MPP), helps institutions 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 from competitively bid purchasing agreements to reduce costs on a range of hardware and software products and services.

Former Commissioners.

Dick Anderson, chief executive officer, Dick Anderson Construction; Kim Gillan, former state senator; Sheila Stearns, commissioner of higher education emerita; Dan W. Harrington, former state senator; Mary Sheehy Moe, former deputy commissioner for two-year education, Montana University System; Kerra Melvin, former student regent, Montana Tech; Ed Jasmin, former chair, Montana Board of Regents; Cindy Younkin, former representative, Montana House of Representatives; Frank Kerins, president emeritus, Carroll College; Richard Crofts, former commissioner, Montana University System; Emily Stonington (WICHE chair, 2001), former senator, Montana State Senate; and William McGregor, physician from Great Falls.