Week before cutoff, committees hear bills on data sharing, student support
House and Senate committees continued their work this week, hearing bills on creating a data-sharing agreement with The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, adding a stipend for students using the Washington College Grant to purchase textbooks and other class materials, expanding the College Bound Scholarship, creating a capital budget matching grant program for the state's independent colleges and universities, and making permanent the Supporting Students Experiencing Homelessness program.
The Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee took up bills at its hearing this morning on student basic needs, student housing and Washington College Grant eligibility. Look for coverage of the hearing in next week's Legislative News.
Senate Higher Education committee holds enrollment trends work session
Feb. 3 — The Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee held a work session Feb. 3 on trends in higher education enrollments. Sen. Emily Randall, chair of the committee, kicked off the session saying she hoped committee members would learn more about national trends and how Washington state colleges are building the workforce.
“It's sometimes helpful for us to look at … how we can learn from each other to help support students and institutions to ensure that our economy has the trained workforce that we need, and that everyone in Washington has the opportunities that they deserve to learn and work and thrive,” she said.
Representing the community and technical college system were Arlen Harris, legislative director for the State Board, and John Mosby, president of Highline College. Harris provided senators with an overview of the college system, including student demographics, college mission areas and enrollment trends.
“[The pandemic] accelerated enrollment declines across our community and technical colleges. … This is not unique to Washington state,” Harris said.
Enrollment in professional-technical and basic education for adults, Harris continued, was especially hard hit during the pandemic. Highlighting professional-technical programs, Harris said faculty were limited in the number of students who could participate in the hands-on portion of classes, meaning class sizes were limited and equipment had to be disinfected after each lab session, restricting the number of students who could be served and classes that could operate each day.
To address enrollment declines, Harris told the committee that colleges are putting more emphasis on understanding and meeting students’ needs. He highlighted applied bachelor’s degree programs that help train students closer to their homes for jobs needed in their communities, as well as short-term, or micro, credentials that students can use toward earning an associate degree.
Mosby built on Harris’s remarks, giving senators context from Highline College.
“Our goal for all of our students coming in, all of our community members, is getting them to their finish line for them to be successful — not just themselves, but also for their families and creating their legacies,” Mosby said. “That's a success that they deserve for their families and communities.”
Mosby featured some of Highline’s efforts to retain current students and reach out to prospective students. Initiatives include the college creating a student success and digital literacy courses and supporting faculty in a community of practice focused on closing equity gaps and student success.
For incoming students, Highline works with local K-12 school districts so high school students have a path from their K-12 district to a four-year university. The college also hosts events geared toward high school students and counselors.
“We can't just wait until high school to talk about their next step, their next chapter in their future. We need to do that early,” Mosby said. “We need to plan these opportunities and help them see themselves at a campus — help them see themselves participating in a program.”
Mosby also recognized that Highline is the most diverse college in the state, which presents additional challenges to reach out to communities with differing needs.
“We have to think differently. We have to challenge ourselves. We have to be creative. We have to be innovative to really be able to reach these communities that comprise 60 to 70 different languages within a mile of campus,” he said.
Mosby highlighted the college’s efforts to help people complete the FAFSA and WASFA financial aid forms. This outreach helps people understand that financial aid is more than transactional.
“It's helping our families and communities understand what these documents mean. What does it mean for them, in terms of college and college completion or however that's defined for folks, but it's helping them understand why we're doing that and why we need it,” he said.
Wrapping up his presentation, Mosby stressed the importance of employees to help students succeed.
“In terms of enrollment management, understanding and the success of our students and providing a framework for our students to be successful, we need to have the best and the brightest of our staff and faculty to be able to serve the best and brightest of our students,” he said.
K-12 data sharing bill up for hearing in Senate Early Learning committee
Feb. 6 — A bill creating a data-sharing agreement between Washington state’s six public universities and college and The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction was up for a hearing at Monday’s Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee. SB 5593 would transfer high school student directory information to the four-year college and universities for the purpose of sharing information about post-high school options.
“They have to pay third party vendors who are out of state to get information, and, to me, that seemed ludicrous,” Sen. Marko Liias, the bill’s prime sponsor, said. “These are our students leaving our K-12 institutions wanting to matriculate to our in-state colleges. We should make that data transfer process easier and more seamless.”
The bill as heard, however, did not include community or technical colleges or the state’s private non-profit colleges and universities.
“I think of our community [and technical] colleges as being a very much a part of the fabric,” Sen. Lisa Wellman, the chair of the committee, said. “I can appreciate wanting to keep this contained, but it seems to me that the pathway that is currently being used is not the pathway you just suggested.”
Christine McMullin, a student service policy associate with the State Board, spoke in favor of the bill’s intent, but asked the committee to include the community and technical college system in an amendment.
“To meet our state goals of having 70% of Washingtonians attain some form of post-secondary credential, we must continue to boost college going rates for high school graduates across all forms of post-secondary enrollment,” she said. “While this bill, as originally written, provides a foundation for college information, the State Board encourages a more inclusive approach that provides high school students with the full array of their post-secondary options.”
The bill passed the Early Learning Committee at its Thursday hearing with an amendment to include the community and technical college system.
Course material stipend bill heard in Senate higher education committee
Feb. 8 — Members of the Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee heard a bill that would add a stipend to the Washington College Grant for students to buy textbooks and materials. Under SB 5522, students who qualify for the maximum WCG award would qualify for up to $1,200 for those purchases.
“As we looked at the data about the cost of textbooks, it’s just astronomical the rate at which the cost of textbooks has gone up,” Sen. Marko Liias, the bill’s prime sponsor, said. “For our students who need access to educational equity the most, they are the ones that are facing these barriers the most, and this bill would help.”
He said that while he was encouraged to see continued development of open educational resources and low-cost course materials, their adoption is still progressing.
“Our students can't wait for us to find those solutions — they're struggling with these costs now. This would help plug that gap,” he said.
Jacob Katz, a student at Clover Park Technical College and a legislative intern with the State Board, spoke in favor of the bill. He testified that students often struggle to make ends meet after paying for textbooks, tools and equipment. Other students, he said, are not able to enroll in college at all because of course material costs.
“The addition of a stipend to the Washington College Grant to help offset these extra expenses would not only help current students to be more successful in their education, but encourage future and potential students to seek education as well,” he said.
House Appropriations hears College Bound Scholarship expansion bill
Feb. 8 — The House Appropriations Committee heard testimony on the bill that would expand eligibility requirements of the College Bound Scholarship. The scholarship provides guaranteed four-year tuition to students from low-income families who graduate from high school with at least a 2.0 GPA and no felony convictions. If HB 1232 becomes law, students attending a community or technical college could still qualify for the scholarship if they have a lower GPA. Students enrolling in a public or private four-year college or university would still need to have a minimum 2.0 GPA, as the program currently requires. The bill passed the House Postsecondary Education and Workforce Committee Jan. 27.
“My goal is to make sure that students have the opportunity to succeed and get the support that they need,” Rep. Steve Bergquist, the bill’s prime sponsor, said. “The students that I think [need] this the most are the ones that might have struggled in their high school career, and if we can do more to motivate them and assure them they have opportunities to succeed after high school, just this little step, makes all the difference in the world for those students.”
Yokiko Hayashi-Saguil, a student services policy associate at the State Board, testified in favor of the bill’s passage.
“We see this opportunity to expand eligibility to our sector as a positive benefit,” she said. “This change would allow more students to be served and hopefully lead to more positive outcomes in their academic, professional and personal lives.”
Hayashi-Saguil told the committee that 6,281 community and technical college students in the 2021-22 school year used the College Bound Scholarship. An average of about 700 students enroll in community and technical colleges each year but do not qualify for the scholarship because their GPA did not meet the required minimum.
Independent college matching grant program bill heard in House Capital Budget Committee
Feb. 9 — A bill that would create a capital budget matching grant program for private nonprofit colleges and universities was up at Thursday’s House Capital Budget Committee hearing. HB 1256 would allow the state to provide up to $2 million for instruction or student housing building construction or improvements.
Rep. Mike Steele, the bill’s prime sponsor, said the legislation would provide an opportunity for the state’s independent colleges and universities to access the state’s capital budget for minor projects.
“They would bring money to the table, and they would build successful projects that wouldn't come out of the state coffers other than that $2 million match. This is a great opportunity to get money across the state,” he said.
Arlen Harris, legislative director for the State Board, testified on behalf of the community and technical college system, expressing concerns that the bill would strain the state’s capital budget.
“It doesn't seem as though the pie is getting bigger, and we believe with your finite resources, those resources should be invested in publicly-owned facilities,” he said.
House Appropriations hears bill to make permanent Supporting Students Experiencing Homelessness program
Feb. 9 — The House Appropriations Committee took up a bill at its hearing Thursday that would expand the Supporting Student Experiencing Homelessness pilot program. If passed, HB 1693 would remove the pilot program’s expiration date and expand the program to include a tribal college.
“A core function of the Supporting Students Experiencing Homelessness pilot is providing the support to students to address their basic needs, including housing, food, transportation, and health care, increasing their ability to remain enrolled,” Jennifer Dellinger, a student services policy associate with the State Board, said. Data showed an 85% retention rate for students participating in the program.
The bill, however, would limit the program to eight community and technical colleges, as the Legislature passed in 2021. In 2022, the Legislature through an operating budget proviso expanded the pilot to all 34 community and technical colleges. Dellinger encouraged the committee to amend HB 1693 to include the 2022 expansion.
“Scaling back to eight [community and technical colleges] would create a significant setback in the work happening across the system in prioritizing student basic needs and advancing, social and economic justice,” she said.
Coming up next week
Policy committees have until Friday to pass bills out of their committees as the Legislature reaches its first cutoff deadline for the session. Scheduled for hearings are bills on nursing degrees and the Senate version of the Supporting Students Experiencing Homelessness pilot program expansion heard this week in the House Appropriations Committee.