Friday, January 23, 2015

Colleges continue budget and policy efforts as Legislature enters second week

The 2015 legislative session continues at a breakneck pace. Community and technical college representatives headed to the Capitol this week to testify on budget proposals and policy bills affecting higher education. Legislators focused on college affordability and capital budget needs and continued to consider Gov. Inslee’s budget proposals.

System capital budget process discussed in Senate

Jan. 22Wayne Doty, SBCTC capital budget director, discussed the community and technical college system’s capital budget process during a Senate Ways & Means Committee work session. Every individual college request is scored and ranked based on the need for space, condition of existing facilities, systemwide policy objectives and estimated costs. A single priority list is then submitted to the Legislature as part of the capital budget request.

Leading up to Doty’s presentation was an overview of the Bates Technical College Mohler Communications and Technology Center project by Marty Mattes, the college director of facilities and operations. He detailed the care and attention devoted to manage the project within the existing appropriation. It is halfway through the construction phase.

Sen. Judy Warnick, R- Moses Lake, credited community and technical colleges for reaching agreement before approaching the Legislature.

“It’s really nice to have the projects scored and ranked ahead of time so we don’t have to make that decision. So I appreciate what you’re doing.”

Tuition setting authority topic of Senate hearing

Jan. 21 — The Senate Ways & Means Committee held a work session on higher education budget issues, including college tuition-setting authority. Marty Brown, SBCTC executive director, said the Legislature should set higher education tuition in the budget because tuition is directly tied to state funding levels. This is already the case for community and technical colleges; the State Board adopts tuition rates within caps set by the Legislature.

“We like to think of tuition as part of the whole affordability question,” Brown said. “We think that unlimited tuition authority would not be a wise thing for our community and technical college students.”

Brown cautioned committee members that no new state funds and no tuition increase would amount to a budget cut because of inflation costs. Additionally, Brown said, Governor Inslee’s proposal to fund employee salary increases out of tuition dollars while keeping tuition frozen amounts to an unfunded mandate.

“Tuition increases were a partial backfill to the cuts,” he said. “It wasn’t in anticipation of future salary increases.”

House members discuss college affordability

Jan. 21Alexandra Minea and Robert Lasker, SBCTC student interns and representatives of the Washington Community and Technical College Student Association (WACTCSA), testified before the House Higher Education Committee during work session portion of the hearing.

The committee held a work session on college affordability. Minea presented to the committee a profile of community and technical colleges students and the financial considerations — such as transportation, food, rent and other personal expenses in addition to tuition and book costs — they face.

“We believe that affordability is vital for students to meet their education goals and their career goals,” Minea said. “And community and technical colleges serve as that access point for higher education for many students. When they’re focused on their finances, it takes away from their college experience yet alone all the debt they’ll be in years after graduation.”

Lasker added his own story to testimony. He told committee members that even with federal, state and college financial assistance with money earned from his 17-hour a week job, he’s left with $1,291 for his expenses throughout the quarter after paying for tuition and rent.

“I would like you to consider the plight of the students when you go to work on this,” he said. “It’s not just the tuition. It’s a whole package. It’s sleepless nights worrying about how I’m going to pay my bills this quarter because that’s where I’m at today.”

Capital budget topic of House hearing

Jan. 20 — Members of the House Capital Budget Committee heard from community and technical college representatives on challenges colleges face with Gov. Inslee’s proposed capital budget. Steve Ward, vice president of finance and administration at Centralia College, told committee members about Centralia’s new student services building, set to go out to bid this spring. Ward said that because of requirements placed on the project by the Legislature — such as shifting project management costs to the college — represents a $2.4 million cut to the project’s construction budget. Funding at that level would require Centralia to reduce the scope of the project before it could be bid, causing delays and leaving less funding.

“I’m asking on behalf of Centralia College and the system of community and technical colleges that you review our request and see if there’s not a better way to resolve the budget challenges in the state,” Ward said.

Wayne Doty, SBCTC’s capital budget director, followed up Ward’s testimony outlining the State Board’s concerns with the governor’s proposed capital budget. Partially funding projects, as proposed in the budget, would cause delays to five projects. The board is also concerned with overall funding to community and technical colleges. The funding level, Doty said, represents the smallest dollar amount of the state’s bonds for the community and technical colleges in recent history.

Coming up next week

Next week, legislators will hear from State Board and college staff on proposals to create a higher education task force on mental health and suicide prevention and to provide early registration for spouses and domestic partners of active duty military personnel.