Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Legislature Gets to Work

The Legislature is wasting no time getting back to work. Committees are meeting on a variety of higher education issues including tuition, funding for high-demand programs, financial aid, and online instruction. Gov. Gregoire gave her final State of the State address Tuesday, highlighting key accomplishments during the past eight years. Gov.-elect Inslee was sworn into office today; his remarks will be included in Friday’s post.

House testimony highlights WSAC, student achievement, transparency

House Higher Education Committee Chair Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, shared an ambitious 6-week meeting schedule focusing on a skilled workforce, college affordability, accessibility, and innovation.  

Brian Baird, chairman of the Washington Student Achievement Council, highlighted five priorities that are guiding WSAC’s work: readiness, affordability, technology, funding, and efficiency. WSAC’s outreach strategy includes engaging students, faculty, employers, agencies, and other organizations across the state.

Marty Brown, SBCTC executive director and WSAC member, reaffirmed the community and technical college system’s collaboration on the council and summarized the system’s mission:  educating more people to higher levels of skills and knowledge.  “That’s what it should be about…the well over 500,000 students who participate in higher education in our state.”

The Washington Student Association shared the four-year colleges’ legislative priorities including the repeal of differential tuition, tuition affordability, and assistance for veterans.

The CTC system was well represented by students from the newly formed Washington Community and Technical College Student Association (WACTCSA). WACTCSA’s 2013 legislative agenda has two major components: redefine basic education to include associate of arts degrees and regulate data reporting standards.

Kailene Sparrs, president, Associated Students of Clover Park Technical College, stressed the unique demographics of CTC students and the importance of keeping college affordable. She urged the Legislature to support community and technical colleges as part of basic education given the changing economy and the need for skilled workers. A high school diploma, she said, no longer provides the necessary skills and abilities to get a family wage job.

“The return on investment on students in the CTC system is amazing,” Kailene said. “[There are] so many demographics of students in our system ... an affordable education is really what holds us together.”

Nate Oelrich, student activities vice president, Associated Students of Clover Park Technical College, recommended regulating data reporting standards to increase transparency in for-profit two-year colleges. He shared WACTCSA’s position that for-profit colleges whose students are eligible for the State Need Grant should adhere to the same reporting requirements as public community and technical colleges. Nate testified, “Regulating data reporting…creates a culture of evidence and greatly increases the transparency in these institutions.”

Link to testimony.  

Gov. Gregoire says final goodbye

Gov. Chris Gregoire delivered her final State of the State address Tuesday before a joint session of the Legislature, reflecting on her eight years in office and urging lawmakers to continue to make funding education and our state’s transportation infrastructure their main priority.

“This Legislature must give our children what we were given – good schools, good teachers and the chance to be part of the world economy,” Gregoire said. “If education is the heart of our economic future, transportation is the backbone.”

Gregoire reflected on eight years of success – looking back at action and legislation to improve the lives of all Washingtonians amidst the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

Among other things, Gregoire highlighted work to invest in early learning programs, provide business tax relief to spur job growth, and increase enrollment at colleges and universities.

“We made the best decisions for our two- and four-year colleges to keep the doors open to more students and more opportunity,” she said. “We increased enrollment in our community and technical colleges by 31,000 students and launched online learning.”

She noted that 24 community and technical colleges provide training for aerospace jobs, directly supporting a key driver of Washington’s economy.

“The Great Recession has severely tested our higher education system. We had tuition increases because we had to,” she said. “We had no choice. We had to maintain our values, quality and access.”

“Our future is at stake, Gregoire said. “We must fully fund a seamless education system from early learning through higher education.

To read Gregoire’s entire State of the State address, visit:

Preview of Friday Leg News

The January 18 edition of Leg News will include highlights from additional committee hearings as well as Gov.-elect Inslee’s inaugural speech.