The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) and Guam are the first of the U.S. Pacific territories and freely associated states to become active in the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education's programs and initiatives. The third U.S. Pacific territory, American Samoa, and the three freely associated states - Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, and Palau - are also eligible to participate and as they sign on, they will join CNMI and Guam collectively as the 16th member of WICHE. As part of their membership in WICHE, CNMI and Guam are participating in the Western Undergraduate Exchange which allows students from member states and territories to enroll in undergraduate programs in other member states and territories at deep discounts.
The Student Exchange Program (SEP) provides students with access to out-of-state higher education options, along with significant tuition savings. Over 40,500 students are enrolled in undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs outside their home states through SEP, saving $377.2 million in 2016-17. In WICHE’s Western Undergraduate Exchange, students pay no more than 150 percent of the receiving school’s resident tuition, substantially less than standard nonresident tuition. In AY 2016-17, CNMI enrolled 54 WUE students and saved $445,452 and Guam enrolled 30 WUE students, saving over $450,000. Through the Western Regional Graduate Program, 1,567 students are enrolled in some 450 distinctive graduate programs at 61 institutions. CNMI enrolled two WRGP student and saved $29,740 in AY 2016-17. More than 15,600 professionals have received home state support when enrolled in programs in another Western state through the Professional Student Exchange Program.
Interstate Passport is a program that facilitates block transfer of lower-division general education based on learning outcomes and proficiency criteria. It includes learning outcomes for nine knowledge and skill areas developed by faculty at institutions in multiple states as well as an academic progress tracking system for Passport transfer students designed by registrars and institutional researchers. The goal of the Interstate Passport is to eliminate transfer students’ unnecessary repetition of learning previously achieved.
WICHE’s Policy Analysis and Research unit supports better-informed decision-making at the state and territory level. WICHE initiatives have been sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Lumina Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Helmsley Charitable Trusts, the Ford Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education, and others. WICHE policy experts often visit members to present or consult on issues including workforce needs, financial aid policy, governance, and performance funding.
WICHE’s 9th edition of Knocking at the College Door high school graduate projections, released in December 2016 (and updated in September 2017 with additional data), describes how the nation and many states have entered a decade of stabilization in the number of high school graduates through about 2025 - with substantial contraction in the number of White high school graduates and rapid increases of non-White populations - before entering a period of fewer high school graduates related to a recent “baby bust.” The WICHE region will generally track the national trend, but less so based on trends with White youth and more due to a projected 20 percent increase of Hispanic high school graduates through 2024 and then decrease by about the same amount between 2025 and 2032.
WICHE also seeks assistance and advice from policymakers, educators, administrators, and legislators. WICHE’s Legislative Advisory Committee (LAC), composed of legislator-members from each WICHE member—including Sen. Jude Hofschneider of CNMI and Sen. Dennis Rodriguez, Jr. of Guam—has been crucial in this regard. The LAC works to keep the commission’s Executive Committee and staff current on significant legislative issues related to higher education, provides input on WICHE initiatives, and advises staff on a host of issues. WICHE staff also serve the LAC by informing members about emerging policy issues in the West.
Regional Academic Leadership Initiatives.
The Northern Marianas College is a member of the Western Alliance for Community College Academic Leaders (the Alliance), an organization managed by WICHE that 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 WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET) is the leader in the practice, policy, and advocacy of technology-enhanced learning in higher education. WCET is widely recognized as an informative, reliable, and forward-thinking organization regarding the role of technology and innovation in higher education, and includes more than 350 institutions, state and systemwide higher education agencies, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and corporations in nearly all U.S. states and many Canadian provinces. 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, the popular Frontiers blog, issue briefs, and email list-based discussions among members. Major topics of interest to the WCET membership include student and faculty success, the Internet of Things, managing e-learning, emerging technologies, broadband and learning innovation, and evolving policy issues.
The behavioral health system in CNMI is operated by the Commonwealth Health Care Corporation through their Community Guidance Center. During FY14, WICHE assisted CNMI in developing their successful Child and Family System of Care Planning Grant application, which was funded in the autumn of 2014 by SAMHSA. In FY16, WICHE will be supporting CNMI planning and training efforts relating to this grant funded effort. The Mental Health Program is also facilitating preliminary planning to build a partnership for Northern Marianas College students to pursue their bachelor of social work degree through the University of Alaska-Fairbanks distance delivered Bachelor of Social Work program.
State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA).
SARA is a voluntary, nationwide initiative of states that makes distance education courses more accessible to students across state lines and makes 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. The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands is not yet a member of W-SARA.
Joshua Sasamoto, president, Pacific Development LLC;