Friday, April 26, 2013

Sunday is Sine Die, special session looms

The Legislature is set to adjourn Sunday, but a special session is all but certain as budget negotiations continue. The state constitution requires the Governor to call the Legislature back to work for a period no longer than 30 days. The question on everyone’s mind is, “when?”

As budget writers meet behind closed doors, legislative work continues. The House Higher Education Committee heard testimony from the Washington Student Achievement Council and college students. In addition, Gov. Inslee signed into law five bills impacting community and technical colleges.

WSAC, students focus on priorities

Washington State must take an unflinching look at higher education and have the courage for tough conversations. That was the key message delivered by Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC) members at a House Higher Education work session on Tuesday.

Brian Baird, former WSAC chairman, began by highlighting success stories heard during the council’s ten-city listening tour. Among them: the responsive nature of Washington’s community and technical college system.

“If you look at the diversity of challenges that (community and technical colleges) face and their responsiveness to local needs and community needs, it’s really quite impressive,” Baird said. “I think that’s an example, in part, of the structure and mission of the community colleges, and it may also have something to do with the overall way that organization as a whole is organized and structured statewide, and it’s worth looking at that.”

Baird encouraged the Legislature to foresee on-line learning’s impact on traditional “bricks and mortar” institutions in terms of enrollments, costs, financial aid, and Guaranteed Education Tuition (GET). He also said colleges and universities should be able to answer three questions:

·        What actions do you systematically take to assess the skills, knowledge, competencies and character needed when people graduate?

·        How do you ensure your curriculum imbues students with those skills and knowledge?

·        How do you assess that they actually got (those skills and knowledge) before they graduate?

Baird recommended researching a randomly selected group of students statewide to determine whether they’re learning what they need to know in college.

Jay Reich, former WSAC member, said Washington’s higher education system is complex and driven by conflicting or ambiguous goals. He encouraged local communities and the state to be “patient, disciplined, and steadfast both in encouraging change and in being willing to assess our impacts with an incredible amount of honesty and courage.”

Reich pointed out that the system is characterized by fundamental and honest disagreements about needed competencies, strategies, and priorities.

Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, stressed that Washington needs all levels of higher education, not just bachelor’s degrees.

“Those young people are as important to our economy as that young person who is going to attend a four-year institution,” Smith said. “We in the state have extraordinary opportunities to continue to have a robust production center, but it’s going to take a change in thinking. Those kids aren’t something less. They bring their own talents, their own giftedness, their own creativity and experience that we all need.”

Kailene Sparrs, Clover Park Technical College student and Washington Community and Technical College Student Association chair, highlighted the importance of keeping higher education affordable and accessible.

“We want to make sure that education remains or becomes more affordable and accessible to everyone of all demographics,” Sparrs said, pointing out that CTCs serve a higher percentage of low-income, first-generation, single-parent students and students of color.

“If we want to raise how many people in this state are capable of going out and getting a job to support their families, then we need to make sure they can get into higher education. And for many people in this state, community and technical colleges are the open door to a better future.”

Sparrs encouraged lawmakers to provide protected, dedicated funding to make higher education a “cultural priority.”

University of Washington students urged lawmakers to keep tuition affordable, restrict differential tuition, and expand financial aid programs for graduate and professional students.

Link to work session on TVW.

CTC bills signed into law by governor

Early registration for military
HB 1109 (Appleton) requires colleges to have a process in place by the 2013-14 academic year to offer early registration for veterans or National Guard members.

High school equivalency exams
SHB 1686 (Seaquist) replaces “general equivalency diploma” with “high school equivalency” to provide flexibility in test options.

Aligning high-demand secondary STEM or career and technical education programs with applied BA programs
2SSB 5624 (McAuliffe) creates a high school-to-community and technical college STEM pathway by requiring the further development of STEM-specific applied baccalaureate programs, subject to available funding.

Multiple measures of assessment for placement
SB 5712 (Kohl-Welles) encourages colleges to use multiple measures to determine whether a student must enroll in a pre-college course and to post all available options for course placement on their web sites and admissions materials.

Sip and Spit
SSB 5774 (Hewitt) creates a special permit to allow tasting of alcohol by individuals who are at least 18 years old enrolled in a culinary, wine technology, beer technology, or spirituous technology-related degree program.

Preview of next edition

Based on pending action by the Legislature, next week's edition of LegNews will provide information on bills waiting to be signed by the Governor and news about a potential special session.