Friday, March 29, 2013

Gov's budget, eLearning innovations, funding dreams

Approaching the three-quarter mark of the session, things are about to get interesting —  and the stakes higher — as budgets percolate and bills of interest are considered in hearings and floor votes.

Governor Inslee releases Working Washington budget priorities

Yesterday, Governor Inslee released his Working Washington 2013-15 budget priorities which call for $1.2 billion in new targeted education investments tied to strong accountability measures.
“I feel deeply that my number one priority is to help rebuild our economy, get people working again, and take important steps toward building a workforce for the future,” said Inslee. “And that begins with education.”
Stay tuned for details about implications for the CTCs.

Washington Dream Act gets hearing

The Senate Higher Education Committee heard testimony yesterday on Engrossed Substitute House Bill 1817 which would extend eligibility for state financial aid to undocumented immigrant students often referred to as “DREAMers.” The bill does not create eligibility for federal financial aid.
Prime sponsor Rep. Zack Hudgins, D-Tukwila, said the bill syncs financial aid policy with current tuition policy (which allows undocumented students who have attended at least three years of high school and graduated in the U.S. to pay in-state tuition).
It doesn’t affect a lot of students, he said, “But if it affects you, it’s a big deal. These are students who went to our high schools and are attending our colleges. They are the ones who will be representing Washington, selling [everything from apples to aerospace] in a global economy.”
Co-sponsor Rep. Bruce Chandler, R-Granger, said the bill is not about federal immigration reform and not about funding higher education; but rather, states a policy that if someone grows up and graduates from a Washington state high school, they will be treated the same as any other Washington high school graduate.
“It does not give any special privilege. But it allows students active, engaged, and visible. [These students] are in my community, your community,” he said. “Higher education allows them to be the best they can be. My community will be better off if they are able to exercise engagement and leadership in the full life of my community.”
Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said that children of undocumented adults came here not by choice, but grew up here and went to our schools, succeeding academically, and working their way through college. ”These are our children, these are Washingtonians, these are Americans, and I think we should treat them as any of our children.”
Several panels of students, K-12 education administrators, and citizens in favor of the bill alternated with panels of concerned citizens opposed to the bill.
Mark Mitsui, North Seattle Community College president, asked the committee to fully fund the State Need Grant and to also allow undocumented students to be eligible.
“We have a skills gap with high-demand, high-wage jobs waiting,” he said, “We have people ready and willing to earn the college degrees to fill those jobs. [This policy change] will provide long-term return on investment that will pay off for generations in higher tax revenues.”

Innovations work session

On Wednesday, the House Higher Education Committee held a work session on innovations in higher education, including Washington State University’s Global campus, the University of Washington’s new online degree, and community and technical college online learning opportunities and resources for students and faculty.
Connie Broughton, SBCTC eLearning and open education coordinator, described how technology-based solutions and online delivery make higher education possible for many; especially working students and those with children.
Broughton described how the SBCTC Strategic Technology Plan underpins the system’s efforts to use technology to improve teaching and learning with negotiated single system contracts that can be locally managed.
“Instead of trying to build [write software applications, code and programming], we negotiate single system contracts,” she said. “This has provided us with tremendous savings. The campuses are then able to decide locally how to use and implement the tools.”
Broughton described the Western eTutoring Consortium. Each of the 44 member colleges contributes tutoring hours and pays an institutional fee. The service is free to students and low-cost for colleges. The service does not replace in-person tutoring and does not reduce costs for the colleges, but allows students 24/7 access to tutoring services.
Quill West, Tacoma Community College open education resource (OER) project director, gave an overview of the system’s Open Course Library (OCL) project and TCC’s OER efforts.
Faculty have developed course materials for the 82 most common classes in the CTCs, with the primary goal of developing high quality courses with materials and texts costing $30 or less per class. The complete OCL site is in the final stages and will be released in April.
“[Washington is] a national leader in open education resources,” West said.
“We will have saved students over $5 million in textbook costs by this summer with an initial investment of $1.5 million,” West said. That number includes only those teachers who developed and delivered the OCL materials. Because the resources are globally accessible, with no tracking required, it’s difficult to know how many others have used the materials.
“The important thing is freedom. Not only from cost, but in adopting the curriculum,” she said. “The OCL is an invitation process, meaning we don’t force faculty; we invite them to use OER and find, adapt, and choose the best tools and resources.”
West described TCC’s goal of saving students $250,000 in one academic year (three quarters) through the adoption of free and low-cost learning resources. Just two quarters into the project, they’re more than halfway to that goal, having saved students $128,000.
As more instructors offer more OER courses each quarter, the number of textbooks TCC students don’t have to buy keeps going up. This year, 1,500 TCC students have saved $70 to $350 each.
Broughton described the migration of the colleges to Canvas learning management system. To date, 33 of the 34 colleges are already using or in the process of migrating to Canvas.
“The most important thing,” Broughton said, “is that when students move from college to college, or class to class, they will have the same online learning environment.”
Canvas is mobile-app ready; which is important, since more and more students are using mobile devices for their primary online access.
The shared programming and shared professional development give a very favorable cost for 40 institutions. In addition to the CTCs, six of the four-year public universities are taking advantage of the shared contract: University of Washington, Eastern Washington University, Western Washington University, Central Washington University, Washington State University Spokane, and The Evergreen State College.