Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education

It might be argued that state policies are instrumental in creating the variation we see across the nation concerning such crucial issues as access, affordability, equity, student outcomes, and institutional performance. Yet much of the policy-relevant academic research on higher education has tended to focus on federal policies or apply to a national picture, which have limited utility in influencing state policymaking.

Through a collaboration with the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE), ASHE-affiliated researchers and members of various policy organizations are evaluating how academic research can better inform and influence state higher education policies, especially in order to address issues of inequality in postsecondary access and outcomes.

WICHE is one of four regional compacts in the nation, and has as its mission to promote access to high-quality higher education for residents of the West. Its members include the states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming, as well as the Pacific Island U.S. Territories and Freely-Associated States.

This collaboration is co-chaired by Stella Flores, associate professor of public policy and higher education at Vanderbilt University, and Brian Prescott, WICHE’s director of policy research, and is relying on the expertise and perspectives of an array of contributing voices from both academe and policy organizations, including Complete College American (CCA), Education Commission of the States (ECS), Excelencia in Education, Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP), National Center for Higher Education Management Systems NCHEMS), National Governors Association (NGA), the National Association of System Heads (NASH), and State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO).

Three working groups have been created within the collaboration focused on: agenda setting, equity gaps, and problems and solutions. The agenda setting group examines how policies and research come to the policy agenda and the complex route to adoption. The equity gaps group investigates the gaps in educational access and outcomes for diverse populations of students and how collaborations between policymakers and academics can ameliorate those gaps. The problems and solutions group focuses on finding systematic ways of identifying problems and solutions as well as a viable pipeline between research and policy. 

Combined, the work of these three groups aims to create better integration of academic research into the policy sphere. The goal of this collaboration is to provide concrete recommendations that will enable research to be translated and used more effectively and systematically in state policy formulation than has been done in the past.


Read the collaborative report