Gov. Jerry Brown has appointed Foothill-De Anza Community College District Chancellor Linda M. Thor, Ed.D., to the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE). She will begin service immediately as one of three California commissioners on the non-profit consortium. Senate confirmation is pending.
Influential among policy makers and educators, WICHE promotes sound public policy, innovation, cooperation and sharing of resources in higher education. It was founded in the 1950s to increase higher education access for residents of the West, and now includes 15 western states and U.S. Pacific Island territories.
“I have long admired the work of WICHE, particularly in the areas of higher education policy and research as well as educational technology,” Thor said. “I am proud to be asked by the governor to represent California on a commission that is focused on student access and success.”
Thor has been Foothill-De Anza’s chancellor since 2010 and is recognized as a forward thinker, particularly in the areas of online learning, partnerships, and recognition of prior learning for working adults. As a community college president, she put her stamp on Arizona’s Rio Salado, building the nation’s largest “college without walls” by serving working adults through distance learning, creating degrees customized for corporations and government, and offering accelerated programs.
Under her leadership, the Foothill-De Anza district was recently awarded a $16.9 million state grant with Butte-Glenn Community College District to develop a statewide online education system where students can find and take online courses from community colleges throughout the state and access a rich array of support services. The goal is to increase the number of students who earn college degrees. She recently served on a statewide task force charged with exploring the prospect of California community colleges offering select baccalaureate degrees in applied career fields with unmet workforce needs.
“Linda Thor’s experience in Arizona and California can provide ideas for new interstate initiatives in many crucial postsecondary domains,” said California Board of Education President Michael Kirst, a Stanford education professor emeritus and former WICHE commissioner.
WICHE is best known to the public for operating student exchange programs which have enabled tens of thousands of California students to attend undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs in other Western states at reduced tuition rates. WICHE’s Western Undergraduate Exchange, for example, allows California students to attend participating colleges and universities in other states at 150 percent of resident tuition rather than having to pay costly out-of-state tuition. The commission recently added an Internet Course Exchange.
The commission also supplies data and analysis to educators, policymakers and governors. In California, WICHE has provided legislators with information about ways to align higher education appropriations with state goals and how other states have improved student data collection. Other WICHE focus areas include supporting effective teaching and learning enhanced by technology, and improving articulation and transfer to increase graduation rates, shorten time to degree and save students money.
The governor of each state appoints three representatives to the commission. Thor joins WICHE’s sitting California commissioners Christopher Cabaldon, mayor of West Sacramento, and Dianne Harrison, president of California State University, Northridge. The position is not compensated.