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Computer science bachelor's degree bill, Supporting Students Experiencing Homelessness program update heard in Senate higher education committee

February 05, 2021 by SBCTC Communications

Committees continued their work this week taking public testimony on bills, listening to work sessions and voting bills out of committee. The House Education Committee on Thursday voted HB 1176, the bill that would prohibit school districts from withholding a student's official grades and transcripts because of an unpaid fee or fine, out of the committee.

Also on Thursday, the Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee voted SB 5227 to the next stage in the legislative process. That bill would require colleges and universities to provide annual diversity, equity and inclusion professional development and learning opportunities for students, faculty and staff.

Computer science bachelor's degree bill heard in Senate higher education committee

Feb. 4 — A bill that would authorize community and technical colleges to offer Bachelor of Science degrees in Computer Science was up for a hearing during Thursday’s Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee meeting. Under SB 5401, colleges would need to demonstrate existing demand from people of color or people from low-income families, as well as show the program's financial sustainability. Bellevue College offers a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science degree, which the Legislature granted to it in 2016.

Sen. Joe Nguyen, the bill’s prime sponsor, told the committee that he introduced the bill to address employer demand for people trained in computer science. He cited 24,000 job openings in the state’s technology sector.

“There is a lack of opportunity and access, and I believe this bill and the intent to expand technical degrees would solve a major problem and equip a generation of technology leaders with the skills and the ability to address a dire need in the workforce,” he said.

Rob Viens, associate vice president for academic affairs at Bellevue College, spoke about the college’s experience with its bachelor’s in computer science degree program.

“We have produced some high quality and very well prepared graduates, and I think that is reflected in the number of new applicants every year and in the growth of the program,” he said.

Bellevue College’s success with the program, Viens believes, shows that it’s a model that can be replicated across the state.

“I can’t emphasize enough: the community colleges do provide opportunities and pathways for a more diverse group of students, and I think this BS in Computer Science degree not only meets our regional demands, but it really does help close the opportunity gaps in a discipline that has traditionally not been as open for women and many people of color,” he said.

Testifying next, Jamilyn Penn, director of transfer education at the State Board, explained to the committee the rigorous process applied bachelor’s degree applications go through for approval. That same rigor, she said, would be applied to any Bachelor of Science program.

“SBCTC understands that with this legislation — Senate Bill 5401 — the Legislature finds essential that students — especially low-income and students of color — have the credentials to secure high-demand jobs of the future, particularly in computer science. We are greatly positioned to assist with this,” she said.

Thirty-one community and technical colleges offer over 100 applied bachelor’s degrees.

Dr. Sheila Edwards Lange, president of Seattle Central College, testified last. She echoed Nguyen’s comments about employer demand for trained computer scientists.

“For many years, these companies have worked hard to add racial diversity to their employee ranks, and with the racial reckoning that is taking place in our country right now, that desire has intensified,” Lange said. “They and we know that we cannot continue to rely on the small number of computer science degrees being produced in our state, and that many of our Washington students — particularly students of color — are not getting access to the credentials needed to compete for the jobs at their company.”

Lang continued that many students at her college are place-bound with families and jobs, so they do not have the ability to relocate to enroll in a computer science program.

“At Seattle Central, almost 600 students a year enroll in our programming courses. These students intend to transfer and continue in computer science, but what we hear from them is that the programs they want to transfer to are constrained and hard to get into,” she said. “Many end up transferring in other fields. That is a loss for them and the companies that want to hire them.”

Senate higher education committee hears progress update on program for students experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity

Feb. 2 — The Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee kicked off its hearing Tuesday with a work session on the Supporting Students Experiencing Homelessness (SSEH) program. The Legislature passed SSB 5800 in 2019, authorizing pilots at four community or technical colleges and two universities to provide additional support to students experiencing homelessness and students who were in foster care when they graduated from high school.

From the community and technical college system, senators heard from Jessica Porter, the program coordinator for the SSEH pilot colleges with the State Board, Jennifer Manley, dean of student engagement and retention at South Puget Sound Community College, Johanna Dwyer, dean of student financial services at South Puget Sound, and Jaysa Cooper, a student at Yakima Valley College.

Providing an overview of the program for the two-year college sector, Porter praised the partnerships created over the past year as the SSEH program got underway. She noted that this week marks one year since the pilot colleges and universities met to start their programs.

“As we present today, I’d like you to reflect with us all that’s been accomplished during such a short amount of time, under very extraordinary conditions,” she said. “Undoubtedly, much of the pilots’ early success is due to our extraordinary colleagues and the cross-sector collaborations that have been forged as part of this process.”

The four SSEH pilot colleges and the students served during the 2020-21 school year are:

  • Edmonds College. Served 49 students in emergency housing or homelessness prevention assistance in fall 2020. The college projects it will serve more than 99 students for the 2021 fiscal year.
  • South Puget Sound Community College. Served 35 students with housing, case management and food support in fall 2020. The college projects it will serve at least 47 students for the 2021 fiscal year.
  • Walla Walla Community College. Served 10 students with immediate housing support. The college projects it will serve a minimum of 40 students for the 2021 fiscal year.
  • Yakima Valley College. Served 24 students with rental assistance to prevent imminent homelessness or placement in student housing. The college projects it will serve a minimum of 95 students in fiscal year 2021.

The four colleges supported over 100 students in the 2019-20 school year in areas like housing, case management, food, laundry and showers. Additionally, Edmonds College, with the help of a SSEH student assistant, served 230 students through the college’s food pantry and program outreach.

“The whole rationale behind this program is to support students in need of basic needs support, and I think that’s exactly what we’re doing,” Manley said. Manley oversees all of South Puget Sound’s college housing programs. Students, she said, have enrolled at the college, stayed enrolled and completed programs because of the stability and support the SSEH program provides.

Dwyer stressed the importance of providing students in the SSEH program with community-based services in addition to the support provided by the college.

“I’m trying to make sure we get them fully connected with everything,” she said.

Testifying last, Cooper, the Yakima Valley College student, spoke about her experience with the SSEH program. Before the program, she did not have stable housing, staying with friends and relatives, in her car, and in an abandoned apartment.

“I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare for a real future for myself because I was struggling so much to keep up with what was happening in my life, in the present,” she said.

Once Cooper moved into SSEH housing at YVC, she saw her mental and physical health improve.

“It’s really been an amazing opportunity for me,” she said. “Without having to deal with searching for somewhere to stay, or trying to figure out: am I going to get to even shower today? Am I going to get to even eat today? I was able to focus on what I wanted to become; what kind of person I wanted to be.”

Enrolled in two classes in her first quarter back in school after a nearly four year break, Cooper said she’s motivated to use her education to help people struggling with trauma, mental illness and addiction.

“I’ve had a lot of people I know that have taken their own lives or lost them. It’s my goal to be able to use my education to help these people because I hope to prevent anyone else having to feel this way or go through any of that,” she said. “Without this program, I wouldn’t be here, and I would never have been able to realize that I had dreams that were bigger than anything I could’ve imagined.”

A bill that would expand the SSEH pilot program by four additional community or technical colleges and two more universities was voted out of the House Appropriations Committee on Monday. It now heads to the full House for its consideration.

Coming Up Next Week

With a week before the legislative session's first cutoff deadline, the Legislature's policy committees will next week begin wrapping up public hearings and voting on bills originating in their chamber.

Community and technical college system representatives on Tuesday will be testifying on HB 1468, which would establish a pilot program to increase student access to mental health counseling and services on community and technical college campuses. Also up for a hearing during Thursday's House Finance Committee's meeting is HB 1044, the bill that would expand educational opportunities in the state's prisons.

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