Students rally on behalf of colleges, corrections education bill heard in Senate committee
Senate committee hears about MESA program, bills on corrections education and disability accommodation
Jan. 28 — The community and technical college system featured heavily in Thursday’s Senate Higher Education Committee. The committee heard testimony on the MESA Community College program and a system-request bill to allow colleges to offer associate degrees in prison (SB 6260). The committee also heard a bill to require public colleges and universities to use a common application for students who need special accommodations. SB 6466 seeks to ease the paperwork requirements for students with disabilities and help ensure they receive consistent accommodations when they transfer from one college to the next.
MESA (Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement) Community College Program
Senators heard from two MESA panels: one focused on the college program and the other on the K-12 program. Testifying were Rich Cummins, president of Columbia Basin College — which is one of the six colleges offering MESA — and Jezabel Garcia, a MESA student at Seattle Central College. Two alumni also testified: Barron Willis, president of the MESA board of directors and an Intel Corp. engineer, and Luis Alcazar, MESA director at Columbia Basin College.
Most MESA students are the first in their family to attend college. Many are low-income and have not been exposed to STEM curricula and career choices. The program offers its students services like tutoring workshops, academic advising, and support while transferring to a university.
MESA students are more likely to persist in their chosen program, transfer to a university, and earn a STEM-related bachelor’s degree than other under-represented students taking similar classes.
The community and technical college system is requesting $4.3 million in the 2016 supplemental budget to expand this proven program from the current six colleges to all 34 community and technical colleges.
“At $125,000 per college, the 34 community and technical college system of colleges will help produce two to three thousand more STEM baccalaureate holders every year once this engine gets going,” Cummins said.
Garcia shared his story from a student perspective.
“I’m happy to say that since being involved with MESA, I have begun a lifelong journey of leadership, growth and discovery, and I am so surprised by the amount of support I’m receiving. Seeing people who come from diverse backgrounds engage in learning with just as much enthusiasm as I have affirms my passions for enriching humanity with STEM,” Garcia said. “MESA has played a really pivotal role in my education this past year, and I know that it will continue to be positive and encouraging for me as well as other students in the future.”
Willis and Alcazar shared their perspectives as MESA alumni.
Willis credited MESA for exposing him to the engineering profession. He started at Seattle Central College at 17, graduated from the University of Washington and is now an engineering director for a business unit at Intel.
“[Being] a student at the community college prompted me to become an engineer. I went off to the University of Washington and did some other degrees as well. This is why I believe the Mesa Community College program is important,” he said.
Alcazar shared his own story as a former MESA student. Thanks to MESA, he said, he graduated from the University of California-Berkeley with degrees in mechanical engineering and in engineering management. As the current MESA director at Columbia Basin College, he now strives to give students the same type of opportunity.
“[I] lead the program and get as many students in my program to transfer to a four-year university in a STEM field,” he said. “That’s our main role — to give the students all we can to support their transfer in a STEM field.”
College in prisons
Following the work session, the committee held a public hearing on system-request bill SB 6260. The bill would allow the Department of Corrections to offer associate and bachelor’s degrees in prison using existing resources.
Twenty-four people testified in favor of the bill, including representatives from the college system, students, former inmates, and community- and faith-based organizations.
Brian Walsh, SBCTC policy associate for corrections education, described the impact of the bill. About 7,000 inmates are released from the state’s prisons each year, he said, and more than 12,000 inmates who are still incarcerated have less than five years to serve. This bill would give priority consideration to those inmates who are within five years of release.
Luke Robins, Peninsula College president, explained how the bill helps fulfill the mission of the community and technical college system. Peninsula College serves inmates at the Clallam Bay and Olympic correction centers.
“SB 6260 allows colleges to more effectively fulfill the mission of providing access to higher education, especially to underserved populations, which is a critical part the community and technical college mission,” Robins said. “SB 6260 will provide a stable foundation on which to build programs statewide and greatly expand access to students.”
Stu Halsan, a Centralia College trustee and attorney, told senators about his experience working with offenders. Centralia College serves inmates in the Washington and Cedar Creek corrections centers.
“These programs build. They build self-confidence. They build the ability to have dreams that they can pursue after they get out of prison,” he said.
Edward Parnel, a former inmate, next testified in favor of the measure. Parnel earned an associate degree from Walla Walla Community College while he was in prison, thanks to private funding from the Sunshine Lady Foundation.
“[My education] eliminated existing prejudices, it gave me confidence and self-worth and, maybe most important, it allowed me to recognize that my dependence on criminal activities to make a decent living was an illusion,” he said. “Today, when people ask me what I do, I tell them I’m a successful college student.”
Parnel is set to graduate in the spring from The Evergreen State College with degrees in molecular biology and organic chemistry.
“When I look in the eyes of my mother, I see pride for a change,” he said. “Soon when people ask me what I do, I’ll tell them I’m a scientist. And I’m going to be extremely proud to continue that little statement with: ‘I first started my education in a penitentiary.’”
Finally, senators took testimony on SB 6466, a bill that would require the Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC), SBCTC and institutions of higher education to adopt a uniform application for determining a student’s eligibility for core services or other disability-related accommodations. If a student transfers to another college, the original college would transfer disability accommodation records to the new college, which would the same core services.
Scott Copeland, SBCTC student services policy associate, and Kim Thompson, dean of students at Shoreline Community College, testified on behalf of the college system. About 12,000 students at community and technical colleges currently receive some level of disability accommodation. Both testified with concerns.
“Access needs are different depending on the situation, program and the type of institution. What is appropriate at one institution may or may not be appropriate at another institution,” Thompson said. “Providing accommodation is a highly nuanced conversation that we have to have with students quarter by quarter. And transferring directly from one institution to another without a conversation doesn’t make sense.”
The committee proposed a substitute version that would still require colleges to have a common application for accommodations and services. Those accommodations and services, however, could differ from college to college provided the student’s needs were reasonably met.
Students “fired up” in support of community and technical colleges
Jan. 26 — An estimated 210 community and technical college students from across the state rallied in the Legislative Building rotunda in a show of support for their colleges. Students held signs and cheered as they listened to speakers talk about college affordability, completion, financial aid and support for higher education.
Sen. Barbara Bailey, chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee, shared her commitment for higher education and her committee’s efforts to make college more accessible and affordable for students and their families.
“You are our tomorrow,” she told the students. “We have so many things yet to discover. And as I look at each of you, I see the leaders we need.”
Bellevue College students wore t-shirts reading “Students today, leaders tomorrow,” the theme of the rally. Others held signs supporting legislation textbook affordability legislation and a proposal to allow students to use Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) on campus.
Fired up! was the phrase of the day in call-and-response.
Students also heard from:
- Sen. David Frockt, ranking minoring member of the Senate Higher Education Committee
- Rep. Hans Zeiger, ranking minority member of the House Higher Education Committee
- Marty Brown, SBCTC executive director
- Jean Hernandez, Edmonds Community College president
Student speakers addressed the four priorities of the Washington Community and Technical College Student Association (WACTCSA) 2016 Legislative Agenda:
- Ashley Brown, Spokane Falls Community College, talked about the difference it would make if eligible students could use EBT on college campuses.
- James “JJ” Jackson, Highline College, shared his personal story of the hope in support of post-secondary education for inmates.
- David Ruiz, WACTCSA president from Columbia Basin College, highlighted the importance of higher education in today’s economy to underscore why it is important to redefine “basic education” as kindergarten through associate degree (K-AA).
- Jake Boudreaux, Highline College, spoke about textbook affordability and how open educational resources benefit students.
This is the seventh year students gathered for the WACTCSA event, with support from the Council of Unions and Student Programs (CUSP).
This year, instead of sending as many students as possible to the rally, WACTCSA focused on giving a smaller group of students the opportunity to speak directly with legislators about the needs of community and technical college students. Besides the mid-day rally, the daylong activity included messaging and advocacy training, legislator visits and the WACTCSA Winter General Assembly meeting.
Participating colleges were:
- Bellevue College
- Bellingham Technical College
- Centralia College
- Clark College
- Clover Park Technical College
- Columbia Basin College
- Edmonds Community College
- Grays Harbor College
- Green River College
- Highline College
- Lake Washington Institute of Technology
- North Seattle College
- Olympic College
- Pierce Colleges
- Shoreline Community College
- Skagit Valley College
- South Puget Sound Community College
- South Seattle College
- Spokane Community College
- Spokane Falls Community College
- Tacoma Community College
- Whatcom Community College
House Higher Education Committee hears bills on faculty hiring and student fees
Jan. 26 — Members of the House Higher Education Committee heard testimony Tuesday on two bills affecting the community and technical college system. One bill (HB 2615) would require colleges to hire a specified percent of full-time faculty. The second bill (HB 2593) would waive application fees for low-income students and require a review of placement-test use.
HB 2615 would require that 75 percent of community and technical college state-funded classes be taught by full-time tenure-track faculty by 2021. The bill would also ensure part-time and non-tenured faculty receive priority consideration for continued employment and tenure-track positions. Currently 54 percent of state-funded classes are taught by full-time faculty while 46 percent are taught by part-time faculty.
John Boesenberg, SBCTC’s deputy executive director for human resources, testified on behalf of the college system.
“Our part-time faculty are excellent. They allow colleges to offer more courses when and where students need them and to bring experience directly from industry into the classroom,” he said. “It’s that outside-of-the-classroom support you’ve heard about, where part-time faculty are missing and not available to students to help them make progress.”
Boesenberg identified the lack of funding to support additional positions as a concern for the college system. He told committee members that it would cost the state an additional $70 million each biennium to fund the 75 percent full-time requirement.
“We’ve asked for funds, repeatedly, to address this issue,” he said. “We didn’t get that money, and we’ll likely be asking for money to do this again.”
Boesenberg also told committee members that colleges already give priority consideration to part-time faculty when hiring full-time tenure-track positions. Colleges last year hired 88 percent part-time faculty into available full-time positions.
Full- and part-time faculty from Pierce, Clark, Bellevue, Cascadia, Tacoma, South Puget Sound, and Spokane community colleges testified in favor of the bill. They were joined by Bellevue College’s legislative liaison testifying on behalf of its student body, and by a representative for the Washington Federation of State Employees.
Committee members also heard HB 2593 that would require SBCTC to coordinate with the colleges to implement a uniform statewide program to waive the application fee for low-income students. The bill defines “low-income” as those students whose income at the time of application is at or below 70 percent of the state median family income. The bill would also require SBCTC to assess the operation and impact of placement testing administered by colleges.
Scott Copeland, SBCTC student services policy associate, testified on behalf of the college system. He told committee members that 12 colleges have an application fee, and six of those have a waiver program in place. He gave members background on placement assessments at colleges. He explained that colleges are starting to move away from placement based strictly on a test by looking at other factors like transcripts and, increasingly, Smarter Balanced assessment scores.
Under an agreement signed by SBCTC and most four-year universities and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, high schoolers who score a three or a four on the Smarter Balanced English or math assessments automatically place into those respective college-level courses.
The system is more concerned, said Copeland, with students who have been out of the education system for long periods of time. Placement tests, he said, are valuable in assessing those students’ skill levels.
“It doesn’t test capacity to learn, of course, or motivation to learn, but it gives us an indication of what we need to do to, in a lot of cases, refresh skills — usually in mathematics,” he said. “I think we have a very, very good system set in place for our traditional aged students, especially with the Smarter Balanced addition in there, yet we still have some needs, definite needs, for our non-traditional students coming back.”
Hundreds gather at trustees conference
Jan. 25 — About 300 people gathered in Olympia for the annual meeting of the Association of College Trustees, where they honored students, shared information and visited legislators on the hill. During a lunch panel, Rep. Hans Zeiger, ranking minority member of the House Higher Education Committee, shared his perspective on the community and technical college system.
“When I think about what’s right with Washington state government, I think about the community college system,” Zeiger said. “You’re an essential component for local economic development, bringing jobs to local communities. Community colleges are conservators of local values and proponents of local aspirations, and they proclaim the value of particular places. Places still matter in this global economy.”
When asked about the impact of the McCleary decision on higher education funding, Zeiger said community and technical colleges have a case to make about their role in providing basic education for adults. And given today’s economy, colleges can also make the case for expanding the legal definition of “basic education” to include a college credential, he said.
Sen. Karen Fraser, Democratic caucus chair, welcomed trustees to Olympia, which she represents as part of the 22nd Legislative District.
She pointed out that employers are forced to import employees from out of state or leave jobs unfilled because too few Washingtonians are earning college credentials. “I think it’s clear that community and technical college programs are going to have to grow and expand in the years ahead,” she said.
Finding the money to fund higher education can be difficult, Fraser said, because voters send mixed messages: They approve billions in new K-12 funding but also approve limiting or reducing state revenues.
Pete Lewis, chair of the Green River College Board of Trustees, stressed the need to make colleges whole by backfilling reduced tuition for applied bachelor’s degrees and the cost of mandated employee compensation increases.
Coming up next week
Legislators face their first cutoff date Friday, which means that bills (unless they’re necessary to implement the budget) must be voted out of policy committees in order to continue on in the legislative process.
Highlighting next week’s hearing schedule is the Washington College Promise bill (HB 2820) and a bill that would create a pilot program for community and technical colleges to offer bachelor degrees (HB 2769).
The Washington College Promise bill would provide free tuition at community and technical colleges for all resident Washingtonians, regardless of need. The House Higher Education Committee will hear the bill on Feb. 3 at 1:30 p.m.
If HB 2769 is passed, SBCTC would select up to five community or technical colleges to develop and offer programs of study leading to a bachelor degrees in high-demand fields of study. The House Higher Education Committee will hear that bill Feb. 2 at 8 a.m.