Committees take up bills on student homelessness, grants and scholarships, dual credit and low-cost class materials as Week 4 ends
House and Senate committees entered their fourth week of hearings this week, taking up bills on low-cost course materials, scholarship and tuition waivers, and students experiencing homelessness. The House College and Workforce Development Committee at its hearing Wednesday held a work session on community and technical college faculty composition, while the Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee at its hearing Thursday hosted a work session on how trades professions help meet the state's workforce demands in high-demand fields.
Senate higher education hears dual credit, veteran and National Guard, student homelessness bills, holds work session on trades education
Feb. 7 — The Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee held a busy hearing Thursday, as community and technical college representatives testified as part of a work session and on six bills pertaining to the college system. The work session covered how higher education helps meet the state’s workforce needs in the trades. The bills covered dual enrollment, veteran and National Guard students, and how to best address students experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity.
Work session: Meeting workforce needs in the trades
Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib was on hand testifying that reengaging adults and student completion in higher education is a high priority for him. His program, Complete Washington, would create degree programs aimed at working adults. The program focuses on the building and construction trades as one priority area, which includes apprenticeship opportunities.
“There’s so much learning that goes on in what's often called the first ever four year degree, which is the journeymen certificate that comes from this apprenticeship program, and yet we've done a terrible job in our country of aligning that education with the credentials — the more broadly applicable credentials given by our traditional colleges and universities,” Habib said. “So the idea is let's create a degree specifically for folks who are trained in the trades.”
Nate Humphrey, the director of Workforce Education at the State Board, presented to the committee how community and technical colleges are helping meet demand for trained employees in the trades. He focused on job opportunities, how college programs are helping meet demand and those program outcomes, and the college system’s budget ask to the Legislature for funding so colleges can help meet workforce needs.
"I think you all know our colleges work with the employers in their area to provide rigorous high quality and relevant education — the training programs in those high demand fields,” Humphrey said. “And to meet that goal, they strive to reproduce the work environment in the classroom and those take the form of our shop classes and our teaching facilities. Those can be very expensive to provide and require significant investment in the facilities.”
Humphrey fielded questions from senators on how any additional funding would be spent across the college system, the use of veterans benefits in trades programs, faculty composition and better data collection on how programs serve underserved populations.
Dual credit: College Bound Scholarship and accreditation standards
After moving from the work session to public hearings, the committee took up SB 5727 and SB 5706, both relating to opportunities for high school students looking to earn high school credit and college credit at the same time. SB 5727 would create the Washington College Bound Dual Enrollment Scholarship program and allows College in the High School and Running Start students to use those funds to pay for textbooks.
Sen. Guy Palumbo, the prime sponsor and the committee’s chair, told senators that SB 5727 is a way to remove financial barriers for low-income students so they can participate in dual credit programs.
Ruben Flores, a policy associate with the State Board, testified in favor.
“It is our mission to increase equity and access in all of our programs. This does that for dual credit programs. We wholeheartedly support and we love the fact that it doesn't preclude them from access to College Bound after they graduate,” Flores said.
SB 5706 would require colleges and universities offering dual enrollment programs to be nationally accredited by the 2027-28 academic year.
Sen. Emily Randall, the bill’s prime sponsor and a member of the committee, told senators why she brought the bill forward.
“We've heard a lot about the importance of expanding access to college level courses for folks who have long been kept out of and kept away from attaining higher education,” she said. “I think we just want to make sure that we are protecting those students — those low-income students — and ensuring that the courses that they take are accredited.”
Flores also testified in favor on behalf of the college system.
“It's a huge step forward in ensuring that students will be successful in the next course in their sequence when they're attending either the next college in the high school course or a course at our institutions,” he said. “These students should not only have access to college-level credit, they should have access to college-level classes.”
Veteran and National Guard students: waivers and residency
The committee then took testimony on SB 5755 and SB 5713 at the same time. SB 5755 would increase the mandatory tuition and fee waiver from 200 credits to 250 credits for Gold Star families. It would also expand make veterans or National Guard members who received a general discharge under honorable conditions eligible for tuition waivers. SB 5713 would allow students who are entitled to federal Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Services to receive in-state tuition.
Sen. Randall is the prime sponsor on both bills.
“These two bills are both about recognizing the service of our service members and honoring them, opening the doors to the next pathways after folks separate from service,” she said.
Flores, a veteran, testified in favor, expressing thanks for the bills.
“Expanding access to veterans in the form of optional waivers and mandatory waivers is something that we love to do. Increasing the credit load is something that we also would love to do. As a veteran, I wholeheartedly support the actions the Legislature has taken in supporting other veterans,” he said.
Students experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity: ways colleges can help
The last bills of the hearing concerned ways colleges can help students who are homeless or insecure in their housing. SB 5738 would require every public college and university in the state to develop a plan to renovate or rehabilitate an existing facility to provide accommodations for students who are homeless. Similarly, SB 5800 would establish pilot programs at four community or technical colleges and two 4-year universities to assist students experiencing homelessness or students who were in the foster care system when they graduated from high school.
Sen. Randall, the prime sponsor of SB 5800, said her bill was about extending supports for students from the K-12 system into higher education.
“Once students get to college, they lose the important supports that they have had access to,” she said. “We need to make sure that students are not only able to get to college, but able but are able to thrive and graduate so that we can continue moving folks into pathways of success and filling those much needed jobs here in our state.”
Arlen Harris, legislative director for the State Board, Dani Trimble, interim director for workforce programs at Lower Columbia College, and Tim Stokes, president of South Puget Sound Community College, testified on behalf of the college system.
“It [SB 5800] allows us to identify four colleges in our college system to take on the services that are outlined in 5738 and then work with you, the Legislature, to identify all the unknowns and all the question marks that we have to move forward in a more pragmatic approach,” Harris said.
Trimble echoed Harris, continuing that a benefit of SB 5800 could be to collect and assess data on student housing situations so colleges can better serve their needs. A mandated approach like in SB 5738 would place a burden on rural colleges, like Lower Columbia, that are often the hubs for services since rural areas often don’t have service providers as are found in more urban areas.
“We really need to be identifying accommodations that will have the greatest impact, and that's where having a pilot project will really be essential — to identify what are the things that are working and what are things that we need to consider before they are mandated statewide,” she said.
Finally, Stokes told senators South Puget Sound is already working to help students through its food pantry and foundation support for housing.
“We do support SB 5800 and do like the idea of piloting, so that we can get actual costs for what the services would cost on our campuses,” he said.
House College and Workforce Development hears transfer credit bill and holds work session on faculty composition
Feb. 6 — The House College and Workforce Development Committee took testimony on a bill that would affect how credits transfer when a student transfers from a community or technical college to a four-year college or university. The committee also held a work session to learn more about faculty at two- and four-year colleges and universities.
Simplifying student transfer
HB 1704, would affect transfer of lower-division course requirements in two ways:
- Allows a five-year grace period for transfer students once changes have been adopted and published
- Requires the college or university to which the student is transferring to grant the same number and type of credits as originally assigned to the course
Rep. Michelle Caldier, the bill’s prime sponsor, told committee members she brought the bill forward because of her experience transferring credits from Olympic College to the University of Washington and her daughter’s experience transferring credits from Olympic College to Washington State University. They both took classes with the understanding that the course requirement and number of credits would fulfill requirements at the university, but later find that the university wouldn’t accept those credits because they had changed their policies.
“If the 4-year university wants to change how they do their credits that's fine, but at the same time they also need to make sure that they are giving ample notice to the community college in making it so that those transfer students are not the ones who are affected by the changes,” Caldier said.
Joyce Hammer, director of transfer education at the State Board, testified with concerns. Community and technical colleges and 4-year colleges and universities already have policies and mechanisms in place to ensure credits transfer. Washington state leads the country in the percentage of transfer students who graduate with a bachelor’s degree within six years. Additionally, transfer students complete a bachelor’s degree with about the same number of credits and GPA as students who start their education at a 4-year college or university.
Hammer outlined three concerns with the bill:
- lost transfer credits does not appear to be a widespread problem
- the community and technical college system and 4-year college and university partners have organizations like the Joint Transfer Council and the Intercollege Relations Commission already in place to address problems with credits transferring, if they arise
- the bill’s five-year period could present problems as students could miss some course equivalencies for degree requirements.
“Our 4-year partners often are very responsive to the workforce needs for their degree programs, and we would want to make sure our students were adequately prepared for those fields,” Hammer said.
Faculty composition work session
John Boesenberg, deputy executive director for business operations at the State Board, and Darby Kaikkonen, director of research at the State Board, presented information about faculty at community and technical colleges to the committee during its work session on faculty composition.
“The ranking member and I were discussing that we didn't actually know who teaches in our colleges and universities in terms of proportion of full-time, proportion of part-time; proportion of adjunct,” Rep. Drew Hansen, chair of the committee, said as he told committee members the reason for the work session. “We hear a lot of lore on this subject, and so we want to get some actual data that we would then supplement with faculty reflection.”
Boesenberg and Kaikkonen presented data on the number of full-time and part-time faculty over time, and the distribution of full-time and part-time faculty teaching at different times of the day and by subject area.
“Community and technical colleges are taught by full- and part-time faculty. We don't have or employ graduate students, and our faculty are hired to teach. Some do some research on their own, but they're there at our colleges to teach students,” Boesenberg said.
Kaikkonen showed the committee that the percentage of full-time versus part-time faculty has stayed at about 50 percent-50 percent over the past 10 years. Data also show that full-time faculty are more likely to teach during the day and on campus, whereas part-time faculty are more likely to teach in the evening and at a satellite campus. Full-time faculty teach the majority of classes, overall. Exceptions exist, however. Part-time faculty are more likely to teach Basic Education for Adults classes and health and physical education classes. A higher proportion of full-time faculty members teach mechanical engineering, natural science and business. More part-time faculty teach courses below 100-level, and more full-time faculty teach courses at the 200-level. The college system has an even distribution of full-time and part-time faculty who teach 100-level courses.
Rep. Debra Entenman, the committee’s vice chair, asked why more part-time faculty teach courses below the 100-level.
“The primary difference is to provide access to students,” Boesenberg said. Many of the students taking classes in the evenings or at a satellite location are working adults who come to school at night.
Rep. Gerry Pollet, a member of the committee, asked why part-time faculty teach more courses in non-professional-technical fields and about differences in expectations for part-time faculty. Boesenberg responded that many adjunct faculty teach one class a year in addition to a full-time job working elsewhere. Pollet also asked about differences in expectations for part-time faculty. Boesenberg answered that part-time faculty are generally expected to teach, although some colleges hire part-time faculty to advise students or develop curriculum.
Bill to designate courses with low-cost course materials heard in House higher education committee
Feb. 5 — The House College and Workforce Development Committee at its hearing Tuesday took up HB 1702, which would require community and technical colleges to indicate during registration which courses offered low-cost books and course materials. Low-cost is defined at $50 or less. Legislation passed in 2017 requires colleges to show during registration whether courses offer open education resources (OER) for its books or materials.
During its hearing on HB 1702, the committee also took testimony on HB 1701, which would require 4-year universities to indicate during registration which courses provide OER and low-cost materials.
Rep. Luanne Van Werven, ranking minority member on the committee and the bill’s prime sponsor, spoke in favor of her bill.
“I just want to say again that this is just the next effort in in our ongoing pursuit of more affordable education for our students,” she said.
Boyoung Chae, a policy associate for educational technology and open education at the State Board, Chris Soran, eLearning director at Tacoma Community College, Mason Green, student body president at Whatcom Community College and northwest regional representative for the Washington State Community and Technical College Student Association (WACTCSA), Kristina Pogosian, student at Tacoma Community College and State Board legislative intern, and Mustapha Samateh, student at Edmonds Community College and State Board legislative intern, testified in favor of HB 1702.
Chae told representatives that while the 2017 legislation helped reduce costs, colleges realized during implementation that it did not address other affordable course materials.
“During the implementation, it became evident that there were other categories of affordable course materials that do not necessarily fit into the definition of OER, such as really inexpensive commercial textbooks or even library resources,” Chae said. “So HB 1702 brings visibility to those core sections that offer other low cost materials, so this way our students would be able to know which course offers not only completely open and free textbooks, but also relatively low-cost materials that are $50 or less.”
Free or low-cost materials, Chae said, especially help students who receive need-based financial aid — 38 percent of students in the community and technical college system. HB 1702 would also support efforts by faculty to use OER and low-cost materials in their classes.
Soran testified that OER adoption helped more students stay enrolled and successfully complete their courses. Since fall 2012, when TCC began offering OER, faculty participation has gone from 16 sections to 169 in winter quarter 2019.
“OER offered a solution as lower textbook expenses increase access to education and equity," Soran said. “TCC recently opened a food pantry. We have students to struggle with food insecurity, and it's a big deal when you ask someone who doesn't know where the next meal's coming from to spend $300 on textbooks.”
Textbook costs before OER made up about a third of a TCC student’s financial obligation each year.
Green pointed out that textbook affordability has been on the WACTCSA legislative agenda since 2011.
“The fact that textbook affordability is a recurring theme speaks magnitudes to me personally as a student leader and underscores the necessity of legislation that reduces financial burdens on students in higher education,” he said. “Without passage of HB 1702, the burden of expensive textbooks will continue to limit the ability of CTC students to obtain the education they seek.”
Pogosian testified that high textbook costs can be a struggle for many students, including herself as she finds ways to pay for tuition and course materials.
"We all know that students pay hundreds of dollars for course material every quarter, and, thanks to the expansion of open educational resources, many faculty members help us save money by requiring low-cost material,” she said. “This bill will allow students to be informed on which courses are offering low cost material, and this is a right that students should have, especially when we have to pay so much money for our tuition as it is.”
Samateh echoed Pogosian’s testimony about the financial strain many students experience when paying for textbooks and course materials.
“The cost of textbooks really sets students back towards their completion goals and degrees and certificates,” he said. “I hope that the state Legislature will help support students toward achieving low-cost materials toward achieving our goals.”
Opportunity Grant Scholarship expansion bill heard in Senate higher education committee
Feb. 5 — A bill that would extend the Opportunity Grant Scholarship from 45 to 90 credits for students in behavioral health programs (SB 5635) was heard in the Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee on Tuesday. The Opportunity Grant Scholarship is a financial aid option for low-income students enrolled in high-wage, high-demand career pathways at community and technical colleges. Currently, funds cover tuition and mandatory fees up to 45 credits and up to $1,000 every academic year for books and supplies.
Sen. Sharon Brown, a member of the committee and the bill’s prime sponsor, told committee members that she hoped the bill would incentivize students to enroll in behavioral health programs, alleviating shortages of qualified professionals in the field.
“We could sit around here and talk all day long about how we need to have counselors and schools and access to counselors, but it's not going to help us if we don't have the counselors and if we're not training more counselors to be out there and accessible, so that's what this bill seeks to do,” she said.
Ruben Flores, a policy associate at the State Board who oversees the Opportunity Grant Scholarship, testified in favor of the bill. He also told senators he hoped that if the bill became law, the Legislature would fund the program’s extension so it wouldn’t displace any general enrollment students.
“As the administrator for Opportunity Grant for the state and mental health degree holder, I think this is a fantastic step forward for the program and for the state,” he said.
Coming up next week
The House version of the system's two requested bills are up for hearings on Thursday in the House Education Committee. HB 1714, the companion to SB 5113, which was heard in Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development on Jan. 24, would grant a high school diploma to students over the age of 16 who complete an associate degree. HB 1715 would allow students enrolling in a community or technical college to access their official transcripts and grades from their high school even if they have unpaid fees or fines.
Also up next week are two work sessions in the Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee on how community and technical colleges help the state reach its workforce needs in computer science and healthcare.