State Highlights

WICHE and Washington

Partnering for Six Decades
Year joined: 


► Tens of thousands of students from Washington 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, Washington students and their families have saved $370.7 million since 1997, when the state started participating.

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

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

Return on Investment.

► In 2015-16 Washington, its institutions, and its students saved or brought in some $36.4 million through WICHE and spent $141,000 for membership in the commission, yielding a 258-fold return on investment.

► In the last 5 years, Washington students’ savings from WUE alone have totaled more than $161.6 million, yielding a 245-fold return on the state’s investment in WICHE.

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

Washington is active in two of the three WICHE Student Exchange Programs: the Western Undergraduate Exchange and the Western Regional Graduate Program. In 2015-16 Washington’s students and families saved over $34.7 million. Washington saved money, too, through not having to establish and maintain costly programs in a number of areas, including some in healthcare.

Western Undergraduate Exchange. Washington students have enrolled in undergraduate programs beyond Washington’s borders through the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE) since 1988. In 2015-16, 3,275 students from Washington were enrolled in out-of-state programs at reduced rates (150 percent of resident tuition), saving $32.6 million in tuition and fees – the average student savings amounted to $9,963. In the last 10 years, students have saved over $301.9 million.

Washington benefits from WUE in another way: by receiving students from out of state. Washington’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 Washington after graduating. In 2015-16 Washington received 1,594 students through WUE.

Professional Student Exchange Program. Washington has sent some 240 students to professional programs through the Professional Student Exchange Program (PSEP). Until recently, the state supported students studying in optometry and osteopathic medicine. Historically, some 81 percent of PSEP students return to Washington to pursue their professional careers. In addition, in 2015-16 the state received 69 students, along with some $1.7 million in support fees.

Western Regional Graduate Program. Washington’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 Washington sent 144 students to out-of-state institutions, while receiving 86.

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.

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

Policy & Workforce Development. 

Washington has participated in projects supporting better-informed decision making at the state level. Washington is one of four states chosen to participate in WICHE’s Facilitating Development of a Multistate Longitudinal Data Exchange pilot project, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The initiative 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 success of that pilot led Gates to fund a second phase in which the MLDE project will expand to other states. In addition, the state 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.

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 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. Washington was one of 17 states along with the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands to participate.

Washington was also a member of WICHE’s College Access Challenge Grant Network, which allowed the Washington State Achievement Council the opportunity to learn from other states, share best practices and lessons learned, and receive current evidence-based research.

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 policy 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, Evergreen State College, Eastern Washington University, Central Washington University, Washington State University, the Washington Student Achievement Council, and the University of Washington Educational Outreach belong to 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. Big Bend Community College, Cascadia Community College, Columbia Basin College, Community Colleges of Spokane, Edmonds Community College, Spokane Falls Community College, and Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges are members.


Washington has been very active 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.

The Washington Division of Behavioral Health and Recovery has not been active in the WICHE Mental Health program. During FY 2015, WICHE supported the Western State Psychiatric Hospital in a quality improvement initiative.

Other Initiatives. 

Seattle Pacific University and Whitman College in Wallawalla participate in another intitiative, 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. 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.

Larry Seaquist, former state representative; Phyllis Gutierrez Kenney, state representative, Seattle, Ann Daley, executive director, Washington Learns, and former executive director, Higher Education Coordinating Board; James Sulton, Jr., owner, The Sulton Center, and former executive director, Higher Education Coordinating Board; Don Carlson (WICHE chair, 2004), former senator, Washington State Senate; Debora Merle, former policy advisor for higher education, Washington Office of the Governor; Ken Jacobsen, former senator, Washington State Senator; and Phyllis Erickson, former representative, Washington State House of Representatives.