Hundreds of community and technical college representatives gathered in Olympia this week to honor students and discuss priorities with legislators. Meanwhile, House and Senate committees kept up a fast pace, hearing bills and holding work sessions on a number of issues, including sexual assault prevention, student mental health and early registration for spouses and domestic partners of active duty military members.
Trustees advocate for system, recognize students
Jan. 28-29 — The Trustees Association of Community and Technical Colleges (TACTC) held its annual two-day Legislative Contact Conference in Olympia to celebrate this year’s Transforming Lives award winners and to hear lawmakers’ views on higher education issues. The event kicked off with a Wednesday dinner honoring five students whose lives were transformed by community and technical colleges.
Thursday was devoted to legislative and policy discussions. Gov. Jay Inslee gave the keynote speech, crediting the job-relevant training offered at community and technical colleges. “One of the things you do better than anyone else is to actually match training with the needs of the workforce,” he said. “I appreciate so much your leadership and your competency in identifying the real demands of the workforce.”
The governor highlighted investments in his proposed budget: Basic Education for Adults, I-BEST, the MESA community college program and capital projects. He also cast education as a continuum that stretches from early childhood education through college. “We need every educational rung on that ladder. Kids want to climb to different places. We need to respect all those goals,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor outlined her goals as Senate Higher Education Committee chair. Her priorities include student completion, year-round access to higher education, reduced student debt and less need for remediation. She credited community and technical colleges for being accessible and affordable. “There’s nothing that warms my heart more than being on a community or technical college campus…the feeling of being on a campus where you know a lot of people are really thrilled to be there,” she said.
Sen. Bailey advised reminding lawmakers that four year degrees aren’t the only route to success. “Not every student is destined for a four-year degree, and that’s ok. We have the opportunity to educate in a way that gives people the tools to go out and be successful.”
House members hear testimony on new grant program, early registration, mental health task force
Jan. 28 — Members of the House Higher Education Committee heard testimony on bills that would create a new grant contract program, require colleges and universities to make early registration available to spouses and domestic partners of active duty members of the military, and create a task force on mental health and suicide prevention in higher education.
Scott Copeland, SBCTC student services policy associate, testified on HB 1154, a “pay as you earn” proposal. The bill would replace the State Need Grant and College Bound Scholarship programs with “Affordable College for Everyone” programs.
The new programs would keep the current eligibility criteria. However, they would require students, one year after leaving college, to contribute back to the programs within certain income affordability limits. The goal is to help replenish and ultimately expand the programs to cover more students since the State Need Grant and College Bound Scholarship programs are now underfunded.
Copeland joined other higher education representatives in lauding the intent of the measure, but expressed concern that it would replace grants with loans and possibly increase student debt.
Copeland also testified on HB 1052, which would expand early registration to the spouses and domestic partners of active duty military members. He thanked family members for being the “biggest supporters of our military,” yet expressed concern that the measure might cause unintended “leapfrogging” – even ahead of veterans. The community and technical college system, he said, generally seeks to grant priority registration to students who are closest to graduation so they stay on track to transfer or enter the workforce.
Committee members also heard testimony on HB 1138, which would create a task force on mental health and suicide prevention at colleges and universities. Lori Miller, a Seattle Central College faculty member, spoke about her experience helping the college community after two students committed suicide in an academic quarter.
“Suicide is preventable,” Miller said. “Let’s get the conversation going about what we can do across the state at our colleges and universities to stop the epidemic of students dying by suicide.”
Joe Holliday, SBCTC director of student services, also testified in support of the bill.
“We support this bill,” he said. “We pledge to work actively on it with the task force. We’re in.”
Senators hear about sexual assault prevention and response
Jan. 27 — Joe Holliday, SBCTC director of student services, testified before the Senate Higher Education Committee during a work session on campus sexual assault. Holliday outlined what the community and technical college system is doing to prevent and respond to sexual assaults on campus:
· Each college has either adopted or is working to adopt a model student conduct code developed with the Washington Attorney General’s office. The code prohibits sexual misconduct, including sexual violence, and provides guidance on due process proceedings.
· Colleges notify students of the institution’s sexual assault policies at least annually. Some colleges, like Green River College, have developed video resources to educate students. Colleges as a system are looking at developing similar education methods at a statewide level.
· To help prevent and address sexual assault on campus, each college has campus safety personnel, work closely with local law enforcement and social service agencies to provide a web of services and support, and use a behavioral intervention team to address students of concern.
· Challenges faced by colleges include working proactively to implement federal law changes. Stretched staffing and resources make it difficult for colleges to work on prevention and education while remaining responsive to students and administering new procedures.
· To help colleges improve prevention and response, Holliday suggested a statewide approach that would combine resources and talents while identifying, adapting and bringing to scale effective practices in sexual assault prevention and response.
System priorities become bills
Four system priorities are now in bill form and have legislative sponsors:
· HB 1704/SB 5354 – Allows community and technical colleges to provide associate degrees in corrections institutions within existing funds through an ongoing contract with the Department of Corrections. The bills are sponsored by Rep. Eric Pettigrew, D-Seattle and Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam.
· HB 1705/SB 5619 – Ties Basic Education for Adults program funding to a caseload model. Sponsored by Rep. Larry Haler, R-Richland and Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor.
· HB 1706/SB 5620 – Grants permissive waivers for building and student and activity fees for active duty military. Sponsored by Rep. Derek Stanford, D-Bothell and Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor.
Coming up next week
Senators next week will continue the college trustee confirmation process. They will also hear a State Board-supported bill on waiving building and student activity fees for active duty military, SB 5620.