Regional higher education compacts are vehicles for interstate and interinstitutional cooperation to help solve problems related to higher education, to facilitate data and information exchanges, and to increase cost savings through collective purchasing power. The creation of formal agreements such as compacts between two or more states is a way that states can address common challenges. While the U.S. Constitution prohibits an agreement between states or between states and a foreign power unless Congress gives its consent, the U.S. Supreme Court has historically upheld that states can enter into such agreements without congressional consent if the compact affects a power that is not delegated to the national government and if the federal system is not threatened by the compact. Higher education and other types of compacts have the force of both statutory and contract law behind them. Compacts that are enacted into law by state legislatures may require gubernatorial consent similar to other bills and may require authorization by the U.S. Congress.
The United States has four regional higher education compacts. The Southern Regional Education Board (SREB), established in 1948 by its member states’ legislatures, was the first regional education compact created. The sixteen SREB member states are Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. SREB is unique among the nation’s four compacts in that it deals with education issues from prekindergarten through postsecondary education.
In 1953, the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) was established by state legislative action as well as authorization by the U.S. Congress. WICHE’s fifteen member states are Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. The New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE), established in 1955, was created by six state legislatures and authorized by the U.S. Congress. NEHBE’s six member states are Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The youngest of the higher education regional compacts is the Midwestern Higher Education Compact (MHEC), which was established in 1991 by state legislation. MHEC’s ten member states are Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, and Wisconsin.
The four regional higher education compacts offer student exchange programs, administrative cost-savings programs, and technology partnerships, and have a policy research and data analysis function. While these compacts can promote information sharing and various collaborations across state borders and college campuses, they are not regional governments that have power to regulate or mandate the actions of states and their colleges and universities. Regional higher education compacts are creatures of and are funded through dues by their compacting states. The major responsibility for policy making within each compact rests with a board or commission composed of representatives of the member states. The composition of this board or commission, the number of constituents represented, and the appointment process of members vary among the regional higher education compacts.
Laura F. Kliewer, Strengthening Higher Education in the Midwest: The Course of Interstate Cooperation (Lombard, IL: Midwestern Legislative Conference, 1989); and Frederick L. Zimmerman, The Law and Use of Interstate Compacts (Chicago: Council of State Governments, 1961).