State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA). A new initiative, SARA addresses the critical topic of postsecondary distance education regulation. Funded by $3 million in Lumina Foundation grants, SARA is a national initiative spearheaded by the National Council for SARA, the Midwestern Higher Education Compact, the New England Board of Higher Education, the Southern Regional Education Board, and WICHE. In an era when students can take online courses from institutions based all over the country, states have been faced with the challenging task of authorizing all out-of-state institutions offering online courses to their students, while institutions have often had to pay substantial fees to the many states in which they operate. SARA offers a cost-effective, efficient, straightforward framework for authorization that institutions, states, and students can trust. The National SARA Council, housed at WICHE, coordinates SARA's work across the four regional compacts.
South Dakota is active in two of the three WICHE Student Exchange Programs: the Western Undergraduate Exchange and the Western Regional Graduate Program. In 2013-14 South Dakota’s students and families saved over $3.6 million. South Dakota saved money, too, through not having to establish and maintain costly programs in a number of areas, including some in healthcare.
Western Undergraduate Exchange. South Dakota students have enrolled in undergraduate programs beyond South Dakota’s borders through the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE) since 1989. In 2013-14, 517 students from South Dakota are enrolled in out-of-state programs at reduced rates (150 percent of resident tuition), saving $3.3 million in tuition and fees – the average student savings amounted to $6,339. In the last 10 years, students have saved over $40 million.
South Dakota benefits from WUE in another way: by receiving students from out of state. South Dakota’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 South Dakota after graduating. In 2013-14 South Dakota received 1,632 students through WUE.
Western Regional Graduate Program. South Dakota’s postgraduates also participate in graduate programs through the Western Regional Graduate Program (WRGP), which offers access to over 314 high-quality, distinctive programs (“distinctive” meaning that they’re offered at only four or fewer institutions in the WICHE region) at 56 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 2013-14 South Dakota sent 26 students to out-of-state institutions, while receiving 12.
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. NANSLO opens access to STEM fields for rural and place-bound students by making it possible for them to participate in lab courses remotely. Lake Area Technical Institute is one of eight CHEO partner institutions in five states that are developing allied health certificates in a hybrid or online format along with academic support and employment services.
WICHE’S ADDED VALUE
South Dakota gains added value from WICHE’s programs in policy, workforce development, technology, mental health, and other areas.
Policy & Workforce Development. South Dakota 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. South Dakota decision makers also keep current on pressing policy issues developing all over the nation through WICHE’s extensive network.
South Dakota is one of several Western states participating in the Adult College Completion Network. The ACC Network, funded by Lumina Foundation, is a nationwide collaborative learning network that shares promising strategies among institutions, organizations, state agencies, and others working to increase completion rates for adults with prior college credit. The network offers a listerv and webinars on issues related to adult completion, and an annual meeting of large-scale projects working in this area. South Dakota was also chosen for an earlier, related Lumina-funded project: Non-traditional No More. WICHE worked with state leaders to identify the “ready adult” population – those who have almost enough credits to graduate but who have not yet returned to college – and help them earn their degrees. Over two years the state received $65,000 and technical assistance.
WICHE facilitated a 2009 meeting in Pierre, bringing state officials and data stewards together to focus on South Dakota’s efforts to address legal issues related to the sharing of data across education and workforce sectors. The previous year, the state 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.
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’s Lumina-funded project Getting What You Pay For: Understanding Higher Education Appropriations, Tuition, and Financial Aid 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 South Dakota Legislature.
South Dakota 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 South Dakota Board of Regents, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, Northern State University, Dakota State University, and Black Hills State University are members of the Western Academic Leadership Forum, which addresses regional higher education issues and engage in resource sharing. Another WICHE initiative, the Western Alliance for Community College Academic Leaders, 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. South Dakota Department of Education, Lake Area Technical Institute, Mitchell Technical Institute, Southeast Technical Institute, and Western Dakota Technical Institute are members.
Technology. Several South Dakota colleges and universities are active participants in the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET), a membership cooperative that accelerates the adoption of effective practices and policies to advance excellence in technology-enhanced teaching and learning in higher education. As part of its EduTools initiative, WCET conducted a webinar for South Dakota institutions on open source learning management systems (LMS) options. WCET also contracted with the South Dakota Board of Regents to provide assistance in developing a plan and an RFP for a statewide LMS vendor selection process.
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. The Mental Health Program (MHP) is 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. It has supported the Department of Human Services’ Mental Health and Substance Abuse divisions in a number of initiatives, including the evaluation of two major federal grants to support the development of services for persons with co-occurring substance abuse and mental illness and local suicide prevention efforts for youth. MHP also supports the development of improvements in services to children with serious emotional disturbance and their families. Additionally, the program provides technical assistance in relation to quality and outcome data analysis. The program is working on a prevalence and unmet need study of persons with serious mental illness to inform state planning. MHP also worked with state partners on a training opportunity to improve community providers’ capacity to work with returning veterans, Guardsmen, reservists, and their families who may seek services in their home communities rather than at military or Veterans Administration facilities. In addition, one South Dakota higher education campus participated in a research study funded by the National Institute for Mental Health, focused on campus mental health and the effects of mental health first aid training for campus residence life staff.
Other Initiatives. South Dakota participated in the WICHE-managed State Scholars Initiative (SSI), a national business/education partnership effort working to increase the number of students who take a rigorous curriculum in high school; its program was funded by a grant of $300,000 from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Vocational and Adult Education.