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System-request, opportunity scholarship expansion bills heard as committee hearings continue

February 03, 2017 by SBCTC Communications

Policy committee hearings continued this week as Senators took up community and technical college system-requested bills on corrections education and the Customized Training Program. The House versions of the bills were heard in the House Higher Education Committee on Jan. 17.

Bills on the Opportunity Scholarship and a workforce study also received hearings. Meanwhile, work sessions were held on textbook costs and on teaching requirements for faculty.

Senators hear bill to make Customized Training Program permanent

Feb. 2 — The Customized Training Program was on the agenda at Thursday’s Senate Higher Education Committee as Senators took up testimony on SB 5381 a bill which would make the program permanent. This is the companion bill to HB 1130, which the House Higher Education Committee approved at its Jan. 24 hearing.

Like the House version, SB 5381 removes the expiration date for the Customized Training Program. The program was established in 2006, renewed in 2012 and is currently set to expire on July 1, 2017. Through the State Board, the Customized Training Program awards training allowances to businesses that train employees through contracts with community and technical colleges or private vocational schools. Employers repay the allowance over 18 months.

To date, the Customized Training Program has served more than 50 businesses. More than 2,200 employees have either received training, or are in training. Anna Nikolaeva serves as the program’s administrator at the State Board.

“We are utilizing a rather small program — about $330,000 in the fund — quite efficiently without requiring any additional investment from the state. To date, the sum of all contracts signed for training is over $1.7 million,” she said in her testimony.

Also testifying in favor of the bill were Ray Kubista, executive director of regional training at Everett Community College’s Corporate and Continuing Education Center, and Lorri Miller, senior manager for training and continuous improvement at Jamco America.

“The Customized Training Program’s critical in [helping] us work with industry more effectively in two primary areas: workforce development and strategic partnerships with organizations,” Kubista said.

Jamco America, which designs and manufactures aerospace interiors, has received two Customized Training Program grants. One grant will finish at the end of 2017 and the other in spring of 2018. The company is headquartered in Everett and employs about 380 people.

According to Miller, Jamco employees "have benefited by increasing their understanding and then folded that understanding back into improving our processes, which is helping our bottom line.”

Miller cited the training as an employee benefit. Training is completed during work hours so it does not affect employees’ work-life balance.

“That’s been a huge benefit and gives us a little edge because aerospace is fiercely competitive in the Everett area,” she said.

House Higher Education takes up Opportunity Scholarship expansion

Feb. 1 — Members of the House Higher Education Committee on Wednesday heard testimony on a bill to expand the Opportunity Scholarship program (HB 1452). Members, though, only heard from two supporters before the hearing was cut short by a false fire alarm. The bill would modify the scholarship program to eligible students who have been accepted into a professional-technical certificate or degree program. The scholarship, which began in 2011, currently provides scholarships to low- and middle-income students pursuing their first bachelor’s degree in a high-demand major.

Rep. Jeff Holy, ranking member of the committee and the bill’s prime sponsor, spoke in favor of the scholarship’s expansion.

“It’s a great leveraging of public-private dollars for higher education. We’re going to extend that to two years of CTCs and technical schools at this point. It makes perfect sense,” he said.

Naria Santa Lucia, executive director of the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship, testified in favor of the bill, citing a report from the Boston Consulting Group. The report found that between 2016 and 2021, the state will see about 330,000 job openings in key fields which will require professional-technical certifications.

“This bill would create a pathway to ensure that our Washington students have the best opportunity to compete for and secure these jobs,” she said.

Also signing in with their support were Ruben Flores, policy associate with the State Board, Maddy Thompson, director of policy and government relations at the Washington Student Achievement Council, and Nova Gattman, legislative director with the Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board.

“Our institutions go above and beyond to connect our students with forms of financial aid that will help them achieve their career goals without facing large student loan payments and other debt; yet many students still struggle from lack of options,” Flores stated in written testimony sent to the committee. “The Opportunity Scholarship program can not only incentivize pursuit of STEM and medical related programs at our institutions, but also, provide students a path to a great career without the additional burden of loan debt.”

HB 1452 heard at 1:30:35

Senate Law and Justice hears corrections education bill

Jan. 31 — A bill that would allow prison inmates to earn state-funded associate workforce degrees went up for public hearing in the Senate Law and Justice Committee Tuesday. Inmates can now only receive basic education, take prep courses to earn a GED, and earn vocational certificates with funds from the Department of Corrections (DOC). SB 5069 would allow the use of DOC funds for associate professional-technical degrees to prepare qualifying inmates for the workforce. Under existing law, those degrees must be funded with private dollars.

The bill’s prime sponsor, Sen. Maureen Walsh, spoke in favor of the bill. She told committee members that an associate degree would give inmates marketable skills and a better chance of getting a job when they’re released. She pointed out that with education and employment, people are less likely to commit another crime and end up back in prison.

“I think, if nothing else, a civilized society gives people second chances,” Walsh said.

Senators heard testimony in support of the bill from Mike Paris, educational administrator with the Department of Corrections, Brian Walsh, policy associate for corrections education with the State Board, Loretta Taylor, dean of corrections education at Walla Walla Community College, and Erik Harestad, a former inmate who earned his GED and an automotive mechanic certificate while in prison.

Paris, who has worked for DOC for over 13 years, spoke of his experience in the field, witnessing how inmates change with education. Corrections education, he said, exists to improve inmates’ literacy and employability so they can rejoin society as successful, taxpaying and law-abiding citizens.

“The programs offered at the state’s corrections institutions are made possible because of the excellent partnership we have with the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges and because of the hard-working college faculty and staff and the outstanding non-profit organizations that provide instruction,” Paris said. “The thing that we really need to do is to create a pathway that allows students to move from basic literacy through vocational and job training on to further education and this bill would help us create that pathway.”

Walsh, Taylor and Harestad testified as part of a panel.

Walsh spoke on behalf of the community and technical college system. Earnings and employment rates increase with more training, he said, but students who earn a short-term certificate, like what’s allowed in prisons, are unlikely to return to college for a degree after release.

“So for most people, the only time they’re going to have an opportunity for education is while they’re incarcerated,” Walsh said. “Given that they’re unlikely to return and that their employment outcomes are substantially better with degrees versus certificates, we believe it’s a sound decision to support this proposed substitute.”

Taylor, who oversees nine vocational certificate programs at the Washington State Penitentiary and the Coyote Ridge Corrections Center, told committee members she believes the programs are beneficial to inmates, but they don’t go far enough. Since 2008, 141 graduates of the college’s privately-funded degree programs have been released from prison. Of those, 11 returned to prison within three years of their release, a 12.5 percent recidivism rate.

“That’s a significant reduction in recidivism, and we believe wholeheartedly that it’s because of their degrees that they earned,” Taylor said.

Testifying last was Harestad. Addicted to methamphetamine at age 15, Harestad dropped out of high school as a senior. From 1998 to 2008, he was convicted of 14 felonies and over 30 misdemeanors. He was more than $300,000 in debt. Harestad went to prison twice, earning his GED the first time and an automotive mechanic certificate the second. After his release, he began applying for jobs in automotive shops, but was turned down about 50 times.

“All the places that had turned me down pretty much cited my lack of training,” he said.

Eventually, though, Harestad was hired on at Jet Chevrolet in Federal Way. At first, he worked as a shop hand making $10 an hour, but not working on cars. He took classes through General Motors’ training, and after six years, is now a master certified ASE technician specializing in transmissions, tripling his salary.

“I would have nothing that I have today had it not been for that little bit of education that I got while I was in prison,” he said. “I know that with a two-year degree, I would have found a job sooner. I would not have been turned down so many times. I would have brought more to the table, and I would have been hired on with a higher wage.”

Harestad is now married with a four-year-old son, owns a home, is nine years sober, and is almost out of debt.

“I’m so grateful today that I didn’t give up after that 50th time,” he said. “By passing this bill, you’d make it possible for others to share in the same success that I achieved with far less struggle. Education does save lives. Education saved my life.”

Michael Clark, a student at Clover Park Technical College, and Paul Benz, co-director of the Faith Action Network, also testified in favor of the bill.

Senate Higher Education Committee focuses on textbooks, faculty, natural resource jobs, and Opportunity Scholarships

Jan. 31The Senate Higher Education Committee on Tuesday held separate work sessions to learn more about textbook costs and about teaching requirements for faculty. The committee also heard testimony on bills to examine job trends in natural resource-related fields and to expand eligibility for Opportunity Scholarships.

Textbook costs

The committee began with a discussion of textbook costs and open educational resources (OER). Boyoung Chae, an SBCTC policy associate with eLearning and Open Education, said OER allows people to freely use and reuse materials at no cost, without needing to ask permission. Students save money and get the most current knowledge, she said. Unlike textbook rentals, students can also keep materials after the course ends, she pointed out.

“The cost of textbooks still presents a very significant financial barrier, especially for community and technical college students,” she said.

Chae explained how the State Board is leading the nation in OER research, policy, and large-scale initiatives.

Quill West, an instructor at Pierce College, said cost-savings aren't the only benefit. With OER, students receive materials from many sources and in many ways — just as they would seek information on their own in the real world. Plus, students can access OER materials on any type of device.

“I can assign readings based on materials available in the real world. They’re seeing information as something that is less than [what is] bound between two covers, [but rather] as part of the world that they’re going to have to make decisions about.”

Teaching faculty

Joyce Loveday, president of Clover Park Technical College, described the gamut of work done by professional-technical instructors. She said they teach in classes and labs, build and update curricula, interact with industry partners, participate with advisory committees, and observe students at clinical sites. They also advise students of employment opportunities and contribute to the broader life of the college.

Loveday said adjunct faculty provide valuable industry expertise and allow colleges to quickly offer new classes to respond to students’ and employers’ needs.

The challenge, she said, is state funding for faculty salaries. “The biggest problem we’ve had in our technical colleges is being able to afford them because they can make so much more in industry in many of the high-demand areas,” she said.

Debra Gilchrist, vice president for learning and student success at Pierce College, said there are three things all instructors must do:  prepare, teach, and assess. These roles are the building blocks of any class, she said. 

“This three-part [process] is the same for all faculty, whether full-time or adjunct. That’s the classroom experience package. But for full-time faculty, the teaching and learning role does not end at the classroom door,” she said.

Gilchrist said full-time faculty take on additional duties, like meeting students outside of class, analyzing data across classes, examining student-success trends, and working with other instructors to connect courses and close achievement gaps. Full-time faculty also craft academic policies and assure college accreditation, she said.

Workforce assessment

SB 5285 directs the Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board to examine job trends for mid-level workers in three sectors of the economy: agriculture, the environment, and natural resources. A steering committee would oversee the project and decide whether to use a third party for research.

Katherine Mahoney, SBCTC program administrator for workforce education, testified in favor of amending the bill to add representatives from SBCTC and the Agriculture Center of Excellence to the steering committee.

“When you’re talking about mid-skill jobs, you’re talking about what the community and technical college system does for Washingtonians. [The system] connects students to employment opportunities which require less than a baccalaureate degree but more than a high school diploma,” she explained.

Mahoney said the state’s 34 community and technical colleges offer about 40 programs within the three sectors. These include Geomatics at Clark College, Water Resource Technology at Spokane Falls Community College, and Environmental Technologies and Sustainable Practices at Cascadia College.

She said the Agriculture Center of Excellence plays a vital role in making sure colleges teach the skills agricultural employees need.

Kathryn Kurtz, executive director of the Pacific Education Institute, also testified in favor of the bill.

Mahoney testimony begins at 1:47:10

Opportunity Scholarships

SB 5361, a companion bill to HB 1452, would expand the opportunity scholarship program to include professional-technical certificates and degrees. Eligibility is now limited to students enrolled in high-demand bachelor’s degrees at 4-year institutions or community and technical colleges.

Pierce College student Balvina Cortez testified in favor of the measure. She is studying database management and design and plans to double-major in information technology. A single mother of four, Cortez said the Opportunity Scholarship would relieve the financial burden of attending college. She expects to double her pay upon graduating in the spring. “That, right there, is life changing,” she said.

Ruben Flores, policy associate with the SBCTC, added his support to the bill.

“Our state faces an urgent need for the level of education provided by community and technical colleges,” Flores said. “The opportunity scholarship…can provide students a path to a great career without the additional burden of loan debt.” (Also see testimony from Feb. 1 House Higher Education Committee, above.)

Harper Chinn, a Pierce College student, admitted he hated school when he was younger. But now he is pursuing a degree in database design and plans to pursue a bachelor’s in programming.  He said financial aid makes all the difference in whether a student can afford to go to college.  “I want to go to school. I want to study. I’m enjoying my classes and I want to do something with my life. Without financial aid, I would never have had the chance.”

Naria Santa Lucia, executive director of the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship, testified in favor of the bill, along with Rachelle Sharpe of the Washington Student Achievement Council.

Coming up next week

The Senate Higher Education Committee will be hard at work next week with work sessions on the MESA Community College Program on Tuesday and recommendations from the Campus Sexual Assault Taskforce on Thursday. Up for public hearing at the Senate Higher Education Committee’s Tuesday hearing is a bill that would exempt facilities owned or used by community and technical colleges from a leasehold excise tax.

Last Modified: 2/9/18 11:32 AM
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