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2021 Legislative Session Kicks Off in Virtual World

January 15, 2021 by SBCTC Communications

The House and Senate gavels came down Monday, marking the start of what will no doubt be a unique legislative session. Legislators arrived in Olympia and, under heavy security called for by Gov. Inslee because of threats of violence, voted to change chamber rules to work remotely for the 105-day session to help maintain safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Committees got to work Tuesday, holding Zoom work sessions on higher education enrollments, equity and impacts of COVID-19, and hearing a bill on making Juneteenth a legal state holiday. Lawmakers need to pass two-year operating, capital and transportation budgets this session, so the budget committees kicked off their week hearing testimony on Gov. Inslee's budget proposals.

Equity in higher education explored in House work session

Jan. 14 — The House College and Workforce Development Committee on Thursday explored various levers to improve equity in higher education, including counseling services, FAFSA completion, student loans and Guided Pathways.

The first panel focused on a report by the Task Force on Community and Technical College Counselors, which was established under HB 1355 in 2019. 

Matt Campbell, vice president of learning and student success at Pierce College Puyallup, discussed how counseling services fit into the broader topic of wraparound services. “We know It takes more than just a keen interest and motivation to be successful in higher education,” he said. “Counseling is an integral part of a robust set of services to help students overcome barriers to the education, which usually have nothing to do with will, interest or capacity for academic success.”  

Colleges recognize mental health is key to students’ success, Campbell explained, so most institutions provide some form of counseling that is woven into the fabric of wraparound support services. Each model is designed with its own student population, communities and resources in mind.

Nicole Wilson, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and department coordinator for the counseling center at Highline College, addressed students' need for mental health counseling. She said community and technical college students are in a mental health crisis, with an increase in the severity of mental health issues. “We anticipate that post-pandemic needs will only grow as students return to campus after going through trauma, grief, loss, isolation and economic impacts of the pandemic, political unrest, and social and racial justice movements over the past year,” she said.  

Heidi Matlack, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and faculty counselor at Yakima Valley College, focused on how students benefit from counseling services. She explained that college counselors fill a multitude of different roles on campus – from helping students with anxiety, to consulting with faculty on behavior issues, to serving on crisis intervention teams and providing as referrals to community resources. Matlack pointed out that counselors help students overcome fears they don’t belong in higher education, particularly for first-generation students, nontraditional students and low-income students. 

“Think about a time when you have felt under the weather. Maybe it was a cold or flu, and you decided to push through and work anyway. You probably sat through the day struggling, feeling unmotivated, had difficulty focusing with the task at hand. It’s the same with students who are struggling with depression and anxiety. They have a hard time focusing [and] finding the motivation to push through. And, it affects our students’ ability to be successful in the classroom,” Matlack said. With counseling, students find purpose, focus, and a vision for the future, she explained.

Joe Holliday, SBCTC student services director, wrapped up the panel discussion by referring the committee to the Community and Technical College Counselors Task Force Final Report submitted to the Legislature in November.

Given the need for colleges to have flexibility in how they design their own counseling services, the task force did not agree to a specific ratio of students-to-counselors, Holliday explained. Everyone agreed, however, that the community and technical college system is under-resourced and understaffed to meet the mental health needs of students and state support is needed.

The committee work session ended with a presentation by Kristi Wellington Baker, SBCTC director of Student Success Center strategic initiatives. Wellington Baker explained that Guided Pathways is a student-centered model that provides transparent, clearly structured educational career pathways connected with a network of support systems and effective teaching practices so every student can be successful.  According to Wellington Baker, colleges are using investments provided in 2019 under the Workforce Education Investment Act to create program maps, redesign math and English curriculum (milestones to completion), support academic advising and career services, integrate technology and effectively use data analytics to improve student outcomes. 

Wellington Baker pointed to positive results from early adopter colleges: Everett Community College, South Puget Sound Community College, and Skagit Valley College. “These colleges are demonstrating meaningful early outcomes that as we scale the work across the state will only continue to feed an equitable economic recovery,” said Wellington Baker.

Wellington Baker emphasized that the Guided Pathways movement at community and technical colleges is meant to shift college organizational frameworks so demographics do not predict outcomes. Wellington Baker concluded with a quote from Ibram Kendi, a scholar well known for his work in organizational change:  “Americans have long been trained to see the deficiencies of people rather than policy. It's a pretty easy mistake to make: People are in our faces. Policies are distant. We are particularly poor at seeing the policies lurking behind the struggles of people.”

Senators learn about enrollment impacts from COVID

Jan. 14 — The Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee on Thursday held a work session on higher education enrollments. Darby Kaikkonen, policy research director for the State Board, provided the committee with statewide data and analysis and Sue Orchard, vice president of student services at Lower Columbia College, gave a college perspective.

Kaikkonen told committee members the largest impacts to community and technical college enrollments were on:

  • new students
  • low-income students
  • students of color
  • students who attend part-time
  • students enrolled in professional-technical or high contact programs
  • students enrolled in basic education for adults programs, particularly English language acquisition

“These populations are, for the most part, more representative of our community college students, and, subsequently, we have seen a significantly larger decline in enrollment than our four-year institutions,” she said.

Colleges and universities across the country are experiencing falling enrollment, but community and technical colleges have seen the largest drops. Kaikkonen noted reasons for this could be the demographics community and technical colleges serve:

  • older students with children, many of whom attend K-12 school remotely
  • students who live in multigenerational households
  • students concerned about job loss, meeting basic needs, paying bills
  • students who have difficulty accessing internet or lack technology
  • first generation students
  • English language learners

“Given this continued uncertainty, we believe students are delaying enrollment essentially until there is a fundamental change in the conditions surrounding the pandemic,” Kaikkonen said.

Testifying next, Orchard highlighted students' challenges with accessing technology. A survey about technology needs conducted by Lower Columbia College showed 36% of the 142 students who responded had only a smartphone or no technology to participate in classes and complete assignments. Twenty percent of survey respondents reported unreliable internet access.

“Technology access is just one symptom of many of the larger impacts of COVID-19,” she said. “These issues disproportionally impact first-generation, low-income and communities of color, the very population that our community colleges are serving.”

Inslee outlines session priorities in State of the State address

Jan. 13 — Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday delivered his 2021 inaugural address as he began his historic third term as Washington state governor, commending the people of Washington for pulling together during the COVID crisis.  Inslee stressed the need for our state to recover more equitably and take action on matters of racial justice. 

 “We owe it to countless Washingtonians who live with the realities of racial injustice every day, and who are less free because of it. We’ll also be working to incorporate an equity lens into health care, jobs, education, pollution and more,” he said.

On higher education, Inslee drew attention to the Career Connect Washington program, which combines classroom learning with practical career experiences for high school students and young adults. He addressed the need for early childhood education, and pledged to keep the state’s commitments to student financial aid so more people can earn degrees, certificates or apprenticeships to get into well-paying jobs and careers.

Representatives hear impacts of COVID on students, colleges

Jan. 13 — The House College and Workforce Development Committee convened its first hearing of the 2021 session Wednesday morning, welcoming Rep. Vandana Slatter as its new chair. The committee held a work session on higher education investments, the impacts of COVID-19 and economic health, with presentations by representatives of the community and technical college system and the state's public and private four-year universities.

Carli Schiffner, SBCTC deputy executive director for education, testified for the community and technical college system, explaining how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected enrollments. The college system saw a 14% drop in enrollment compared to fall 2019, with professional-technical and Basic Education for Adults programs seeing the biggest declines. Enrollment declines are particularly pronounced among new students and students of color.

“When we interviewed those students who stopped out, we saw that most of them were claiming that they could not juggle their own educational pursuits while working full-time and trying to keep their K-12 age children learning in a remote environment,” she said.

Bright spots in enrollment were Running Start and Bachelor of Applied Science degree programs, which saw increases of 4% and 13%, respectively. However, while BAS programs saw increased enrollment in all race and ethnicities, Running Start enrollment saw decreased participation by students of color.

“There’s still a lot of work to do to increase the number of students of color participating in this kind of dual credit,” Schiffner said.

Schiffner also spoke about the ways community and technical colleges are preparing for enrollments to recover and to help the state in its economic recovery.

“We know that during the last recession, it took approximately three years after the recession to hit to see enrollment at our colleges increase,” she said. “We want to figure out how to encourage students to enroll in retraining opportunities sooner.”

The pandemic, Schiffner continued, is reason for the college system to reexamine practices like placement and dual credit.

“We feel we’ve got to keep evolving and being responsive to the needs of our students in this COVID-adjacent world. We believe we’re doing so," Schiffner said.

Bill to make Juneteenth a state holiday heard in House committee

Jan. 13 — The first bill heard by the House State Government and Tribal Relations Committee for the 2021 legislative session would make June 19 — Juneteenth — a legal state holiday.

Juneteenth serves as a day of remembrance when news of the end of the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation, which had been signed two years prior, reached the people of Galveston, Tex. The day is also a time to recognize and celebrate the contributions of Black Americans and African Americans to society. HB 1016 would add June 19 as the state’s 11th legal holiday.

"Cost to the state was a concern last session. Other concerns are from the Black/African American committee is that Juneteenth doesn’t address the bigger issues of racial inequity we have in our state. Those are fair arguments, but they are not the reason to vote no. They’re the reason to vote yes," said Rep. Melanie Morgan, the bill's prime sponsor. "It's not about a holiday. It's about healing. It's about reconciliation. It's about equity.  And I hope that this committee will see the importance of this meaningful piece of legislation and vote it out of committee."

Monica Wilson, Dr. Valerie Hunt and Da’Mea Birdsong testified in favor of the bill on behalf of the community and technical college system.

Wilson serves as SBCTC Basic Education for Adults policy associate and helps lead the State Board's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee.

"We’ve witnessed widespread challenges to dismantle racial disparities fostered by centuries of systemic racism," Wilson said. "Designating June 19 as a legal state holiday to celebrate the end of chattel slavery would build upon our state’s commitment to dismantling racism and anti-Blackness. And, it would further educate our communities about the history of slavery and its devastating impacts as well as provide an opportunity to uplift and celebrate the vast gifts and contributions of Black and African American people, our cultures, and our perseverance."

Hunt, the associate vice president of equity, diversity and inclusion at Seattle Central College and chair of the college system’s Diversity and Equity Officers Commission, told committee members of the importance of Juneteenth to Black and African American communities.

"Its commemoration paves the way for more Black history to be redeemed and deemed essential for the nation. Essential for the truth in reckoning and reconciliation about the ravages of enslavement. For those of us who are keepers of Black history. Juneteenth becomes a milestone, for Black history is American history," she said.

Birdsong, a student at Whatcom Community College and one of the State Board’s legislative interns for the 2021 session, spoke about how she learned of Juneteenth from a TV show and now wants to teach others about its meaning.

"This day is a time for my family and I to celebrate what is the true Independence Day for our people," she said. "We, as African Americans, contribute to American history day in and day out, and we need to be recognized in this society. Avoiding these historical events only contributes to this country's lack of representation and acknowledgement of the true minority experience."

Senate and House budget committees hear testimony on governor's budget proposals

Jan. 12 – The Senate Ways and Means Committee heard public testimony on Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposed operating and capital budgets at a hearing on Tuesday.

Governor's operating budget proposal

The governor’s proposed operating budget includes $37 million for the community and technical college system:  

  • $23 million toward the system’s budget request for equity initiatives, including funds to expand anti-racist curriculum reviews and to improve virtual simulation technologies.
  • $10 million for the Job Skills Program, a customized training program for workers, with priority given to new or prospective employees who have been dislocated due to COVID-19. The governor fully funded the system’s budget request for the program.
  • $4 million to expand the number of high-demand and Career Connected enrollments ($2 million for each, with funds able to flow between the two areas to support enrollments)

The budget also includes $137 million in budget cuts, which would come in the form of salary freezes and reductions and mandatory furlough days.

Cherie Berthon, SBCTC operating budget director, expressed a technical concern about faculty pay cuts: “The governor’s budget for next biennium would retroactively cut the colleges faculty COLA that was provided this year under I-732. Cutting this 2.8% COLA in addition to the 4.5% cut attributed to furloughs means our faculty would be taking a 7% cut beginning July 1 of this year. We doubt the governor intended to cut faculty salary increases this deeply so we look forward to working with you on these concerns.”

Gary Locke, former Washington state governor and interim Bellevue College president, pointed out that higher education is an integral part of any strategy for economic recovery for people and businesses. 

Community and technical colleges play a particularly critical role, he said, because they provide workforce training for the thousands of workers who have ben displaced by the pandemic and for all the employers who need a skilled workforce.  

Locke also pointed out the diverse nature of community and technical college students: nearly half are students of color, the median age is 26, 40% receive financial aid and half attend part time because they’re working.

Locke expressed appreciation for Gov. Inslee’s proposed $37 million investment in community and technical colleges, but expressed concerns about retroactive pay cuts that have already been bargained. “In order to cut their pay, we would need to cut their hours of instruction…which would be very problematic and could impact the education of the students who are so critical in this economic recovery.” 

Locke and Berthon gave similar testimony on the governor’s budget proposals before the House Appropriations Committee on Jan. 14.

Governor's proposed capital budget

After hearing operating budget testimony, the Senate Ways and Means Committee turned to the governor’s proposed capital budget, which would provide $566 million for the state’s community and technical colleges. The proposal would fully fund the system’s prioritized request through priority number 28 for the construction of Lake Washington’s Center for Design. 

Amy Morrison, president of Lake Washington Institute of Technology, Chemene Crawford, president of North Seattle College, and Kevin Brockbank, president of Spokane Community College, were on hand to testify before the committee.

Morrison pointed out that Lake Washington’s Center for Design would be the first new building constructed at her campus in over a decade. The center is critical, she said, because it would prepare space for students to prepare for well-paying, high-demand jobs within the region’s high tech companies. Additionally, she said, the governor’s proposal would address almost 500 facility and infrastructure deficiencies with minor-project funding, and renovate or replace 41 buildings across the state that are old and in bad shape.

Crawford thanked the governor for making significant capital investments for community and technical colleges, and for following the order of the system’s priorities. North Seattle College would receive construction phase funding to renovate a 50-year-old library to address significant seismic vulnerabilities, ADA compliance issues and to bring the building into compliance with electrical and fire codes.  

“The renovated building will provide updated space for student instructional support, research and literacy skill-building programs,” she said.

Brockbank said he was pleased to see the governor’s budget proposal includes design phase funding for an apprenticeship center project, which would involve replacing four older buildings with a single facility designed to support Spokane Community College’s 22 registered apprenticeship programs.

“These are the kinds of programs that provide opportunities for new high school graduates, laid off workers, seasoned employees, teachers, university students and all types of students who count on our community and technical colleges to reinvent themselves as they re-enter the workforce,” he said. In addition to serving students, the proposal would create an estimated 5,800 construction-jobs across the state, Brockbank continued. 

Coming up next week

The House College and Workforce Development Committee is scheduled at its Monday hearing to take testimony on HB 1033, a bill that would extend the Customized Training Program Business and Occupation tax credit from July 1, 2021 to July 1, 2026. That committee is also set to hear HB 1044, a bill that would expand educational opportunities in the state's prisons.

Also next week, the House State Government and Tribal Relations Committee is scheduled to vote on HB 1066, the bill that would make Juneteenth a legal state holiday, which would advance it to the next stage in the legislative process.

Last Modified: 4/16/21, 4:58 PM
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