Career Connect Washington and Washington Promise Scholarship bills highlight the session's second week
Committee work continued this week as representatives and senators took up hot topics affecting community and technical colleges and students. House and Senate higher education committees heard governor-requested bills on Career Connect Washington and the Washington College Promise Scholarship at their Tuesday hearings.
At its Thursday hearing, the Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee took testimony on the college system's requested bill that would change the requirements for students earning a high school diploma upon earning their associate degree.
Career Connect Washington bills heard in House and Senate higher education committees
The House and Senate higher education committees took up the governor-requested Career Connect Washington bills at their hearings Tuesday. HB 1336 and SB 5327, companion bills, would create a multi-agency work group, which would include the State Board, to coordinate career connected learning opportunities. It would also create a grant program to support regional career connected learning opportunities, fund school districts up to 1.2 FTE for students in certain career connected learning programs, and require colleges to have career connected learning coordinators to work with faculty and administrators to expand program opportunities.
In the House, Rep. Vandana Slatter, the House bill’s prime sponsor, told her colleagues why she’s supporting the bill.
“There is a mismatch of underserved students and underemployed workers in our economy, and that mismatch is growing between our educational system, and the future of work and state and country,” she said. “Career Connect Washington is a vision that seeks to find the best way to fill opportunity gaps and knowledge or experience gaps and ask a question: how can we scale up to the entire state the good ideas that are already happening and that you will hear about today from so many people.”
In the Senate, Sen. Lisa Wellman, the Senate bill’s prime sponsor, told senators that career connected learning opportunities are necessary to train students in a changing economy.
“We're talking about the continuity — that continuum of education — that allows young people to explore opportunities to kind of figure what they might be wanting to do and where they might want to go. And education is changing,” she said. “We're looking at a digital economy, and we need to make sure that that preparatory route through early learning through K-12 and through higher ed — really or through other opportunities — in fact that's the whole point of this — is that there's not just one pathway there are many, many pathways.
Testimony in both committees came from business, labor and education in support of the bill’s passage. Speaking from the community and technical college system were Ben Bagherpour, the vice president of site services and government affairs at SEH America in Vancouver and a member of the State Board, Bob Knight, president of Clark College, Sachi Horback, vice president of instruction at Clark College, and Carli Schiffner, deputy executive director of education at the State Board.
“I have been in manufacturing over 35 years, and, like many other businesses, we have had our share of challenges finding a skilled workforce,” Bagherpour testified. “There are many skilled job openings in our community and in our state. Community and technical colleges play an essential and critical role in training and educating these students to fill these jobs openings.”
Knight noted that the bill would strengthen the connection between the K-12 sector, community and technical colleges, and businesses, while helping colleges increase completions and get students into the workforce.
“As community college and technical colleges, we're in the business of workforce development. This bill supports and helps us with funding to promote, educate, train and mentor those students,” Knight said.
Horback praised the bill’s funding for faculty advisors and program managers to help students complete programs and enter the workforce.
“I can state with confidence that it is integral to have programs like Career Connect that reflect strong partnerships with K-12, industry and our broader community," she said. “Ultimately we have shared goals and minds: equitable opportunities for a family-living wage.”
Schiffner told representatives and senators in both hearings that, in anticipation of the bill’s introduction, work is already underway to strengthen workforce and registered apprenticeship programs. The State Board, she said, is working with the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Council of Presidents, the organizing body for the state’s public four-year universities, to find the best ways to serve students.
“The State Board is prepared and excited to build upon our current partnerships and collaboration to increase youth engagement in meaningful and quality pathways to careers,” Schiffner said.
Bills creating Washington College Promise Scholarship program subject of House and Senate higher education committee hearings
Members of the House and Senate higher education committees also took testimony on bills that would create the Washington Promise Scholarship program. HB 1340 and SB 5393, requested by Governor Jay Inslee, would create the scholarship program in place of the State Need Grant, make it an entitlement for all eligible students, and make the maximum award the total cost of tuition and fees.
“1340 just takes the existing State Need Grant program, makes it a guarantee so that you will, in fact, get this financial aid if your family qualifies by median income,” said Rep. Drew Hansen, the bill’s prime sponsor and chair of the House Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee. “And that's a promise to families in Washington state that are having a hard time making ends meet: that we will be with you to help you pick up your tuition so you have a shot at a different career path different job and life.”
The House committee also heard a similar bill, HB 1123, which would create the Washington Promise. That program would provide free community and technical college tuition and fees to eligible students, and expand the State Need Grant eligibility to 100 percent of the state’s median family income from the current 70 percent.
“The big concept here for the governor's proposal and HB 1123 is it is long past due for Washington state to ensure that every low and middle income student who is academically qualified is not denied the opportunities of a higher education — whether it's a workforce training certificate, or AA or BA or BS degree — just because of their income status or our failure to provide them with student supports necessary to succeed,” said Rep. Gerry Pollet, HB 1123’s prime sponsor.
Representatives from the community and technical college system were on hand to testify in favor of the bills before both committees. Ivan Harrell, president of Tacoma Community College, Kedrich Jackson, a trustee at Columbia Basin College testified before the Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee. Harrell also testified before the House committee along with Shouan Pan, chancellor of the Seattle Colleges district, Warren Brown, president of North Seattle College, Arlen Harris, legislative director for the State Board, and State Board legislative interns Mustapha Samateh, a student at Edmonds Community College, and Kristina Pogosian, a student at Tacoma Community College.
“We wholeheartedly believe that every student should be able to pursue their dreams of higher education and live a better life regardless of their financial means,” Harrell said, telling committee members his own story of relying on financial aid to help pay for college. “Right now too many bright highly motivated students are forced to interrupt their studies or even drop out of college because they simply can't afford it.”
Jackson told senators that the Washington Promise Scholarship would help students struggling to make ends meet so they wouldn’t have to take out student loans to cover the cost of attending college.
“It will open the door for a better life for thousands of students of every age. Students will be able to concentrate on their studies instead of their economic worries, and they'll be able to take advantage of everything college has to offer,” Jackson said.
Pan testified that the program brings together evidence-based research learned from 11 states and will benefit all students, no matter their situation.
“We have many students where community college is the only way for them to access higher education,” he said. “We can see the benefit for underserved populations, when they don't have to worry about tuition support services to succeed.”
Brown spoke to the program created by HB 1123, which would be similar to the Seattle Promise passed by Seattle voters in November. The Seattle Promise works, he said. Research showed that 56 percent of North Seattle College students said they were not considering college before that funding.
“This is a game changer for one-in-two students,” Brown said.
Samateh shared the story of a fellow Edmonds Community College student, a refugee from Yemen. With a program like the Washington Promise Scholarship in place, that student would have been able to attend college without financial worry.
“I’m also speaking on behalf of the students I represent at my college because there are similar students that are facing the same thing and don't have the same opportunity as other people have,” Samateh said.
Pogosian told representatives her mother’s story. As an immigrant to the United States from Armenia, she learned English and earned an associate degree from Bellevue College while working and raising two children. She was able to do so because of the State Need Grant.
“Pursuing a higher education is not only something that benefits the individual themself through helping them earn a better job and make more money and support themselves and their family, but it helps the future generation because children are more successful when their parents pursue an education and are able to support them financially,” Pogosian said. “I know because I am the product of a mother who was financially supported in her academic journey.”
College system bill to change high school diploma award requirements heard in Senate Higher Education committee
A community and technical college system-requested bill was up for a hearing at Thursday’s Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee meeting. The bill, SB 5113, would grant a high school diploma to students over the age of 16 who complete an associate degree. Under current law, community and technical colleges may grant a high school diploma to students who complete an associate degree who are over the age of 21, enrolled through Running Start, or attend one of the three technical high school located within a technical college.
Troy Goracke, policy associate for high school completion, Carrie O'Brien, a case manager for Green River College’s Open Doors Program, a partnership between Green River and local school districts that provides students with alternatives to earning an high school diploma, Deandre Washington and Kian Ford, both students in the Open Doors Program, testified in favor of the bill.
The bill, Goracke told senators, would allow students under the age of 21 to earn their high school diploma simply by successfully completing an associate’s degree, exactly as their peers do in Running Start and technical high schools.
“This bill corrects that inequity,” Goracke said. “Many career paths require not only post-secondary education and a degree for employment, but also a high school diploma. Holding this credential along with their associate degree could be essential to their ability to obtain a high skilled job in their chosen industry and a better future.”
Additionally, Goracke said, students must have a high school diploma for many forms of federal and state financial aid, often necessary if those students will continue their education.
O’Brien testified that Open Doors students who have met the requirements for an associate degree often have to put their graduation on hold to complete additional credits required for a high school diploma. For trades students earning an applied associate degree, she said, high school completion requirements are a bigger hurdle.
“After completing an associate degree, Green River students are well prepared to transfer to universities to continue their education or are highly qualified to accept jobs in a variety of fields, but unfortunately they are often unable to take these opportunities,” O’Brien said. “So they're doing the same work as everybody else and we would like them to receive the same opportunity to get their diploma.”
Washington, who is a student athlete, peer mentor and president of the Black Student Union at Green River, testified that while he was ready to transfer to continue his education, he had to wait to receive his high school diploma because he is two months away from his 21st birthday.
“With my birthday being in March, I have to put my academic study and athletic eligibility on hold until spring term,” he said. “While I'm committed to succeed no matter what, time is something I cannot get back.”
Ford, a peer mentor at Green River, told senators that the Open Doors program gave her flexibility she needed in her life and confidence to complete her education goals.
“Under the current law, I would have two or three quarters — that's up to nine months — of extraneous classes just to get the high school diploma or even pass my associates degree that in no way prepare me for my dream of higher education in the biomedical fields,” she said.
Education access bills heard in Senate Human Services committee
The Senate Human Services, Reentry and Rehabilitation Committee took up two education-related corrections bills at its Tuesday hearing. SB 5080 would grant inmates earned release time for attendance, participation and completion of basic education programs. The second, SB 5433, would allow inmates to use the internet for educational programs, and it allows the Department of Corrections and community and technical colleges to offer associate or applied baccalaureate programs.
Community and technical college representatives were on hand to testify in favor of both bills. Wanda Billingsly, dean of corrections education at Edmonds Community College, told senators she thought SB 5080 is “a step in the right direction in terms of progressiveness and innovation.”
Pat Seibert-Love, State Board policy associate for corrections education, also testified in favor.
“We think any time that you can provide people access to being out in the community sooner, in particular with educational opportunities, that's the way to go,” she said.
The committee then moved to testimony on SB 5433. Sen. Claire Wilson, the bill’s prime sponsor, told her colleagues why she supported the measure.
“We know that and we have huge numbers of individuals that have been negatively impacted by disproportionality in our system, and this would be one way that we would begin to make that change and allow folks to have what they need to be successful when they enter back into our communities,” she said.
Seibert-Love was again on hand to testify in favor of the bill. She told senators that with jobs becoming more sophisticated, it’s necessary for inmates to learn the on-the-job skills they would need once they enter the workforce. An HVAC technician, for example, uses technology on the job for diagnostic testing, ordering parts and billing.
“All of that is technology that they don't have access to by secured internet inside,” she said. “They have to learn once they get released and that puts them at a tremendous disadvantage. It's not right. It's not equitable.”
Eric Harstead, a former inmate who participated in an automotive technology program while incarcerated, also testified about the importance of having internet access available in prisons. He was able to take ASE certification exams by pencil and paper. Those exams are now exclusively online. He was already at a disadvantage finding a job after release, he said, because he was competing for jobs with people who had associate degrees, an option that was not available to him during his time in prison, making the ASE certifications an important tool in his job search.
“Had I had the opportunity to gain a two year degree that partnered with my ASE certifications, I would have been just as qualified as them, leveling the playing field,” he said. “Men and women who can't break the cycle of addiction and prisons are a huge burden to their families in the community and the State of Washington. I'm sitting here before you today living proof that a quality education is the key to breaking that cycle.
Coming up next week
Committee work continues next week with bills on creating a funding source for colleges and creating an apprenticeship program for prison inmates scheduled for hearings. Bills on Career Connect Washington and the Washington Promise Scholarship are scheduled for a vote in the House Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee and several trustee appointments are up for a vote in the Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee.