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Credential registry, student support bills heard as week 2 concludes

January 19, 2024 by SBCTC Communications

Committee hearings ended their second week today, with representatives and senators taking up bills on supporting incarcerated veterans, creating an online credential registry and expanding Washington College Grant eligibility. In floor action, the Senate confirmed four trustees to their college boards this week.

Members of the House Postsecondary Education and Workforce Development continued hearing testimony on a digital empowerment and workforce inclusion bill at its hearing this morning. Look for coverage of that hearing in next week's Legislative News.

Financial aid program expansion bill heard in Senate higher education committee

Jan. 12 — The Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee at its Jan. 12 hearing took up a bill that would extend eligibility for the Washington College Grant, College Bound Scholarship and Passport to Careers Program. Current law allows students to use these financial aid programs for five years of their program’s published length. SB 5904 would extend that to six years, aligning eligibility with federal financial aid standards. Similar Washington Student Achievement Council-requested bills were heard during the 2023 legislative session, but neither passed cutoff deadlines.

“It's important to recognize that each student's journey is unique and various factors can contribute to delayed graduation. And right now, inconsistent state and federal financial aid policies have made it harder for many low-income students and many middle-income students to navigate and to plan for their degree. The maximum time frame to receive state aid varies across programs, and all are shorter than the federal standard,” Sen. T'wina Nobles, the bill’s prime sponsor and chair of the committee, said. “Consistency across programs will reduce confusion for recipients while lessening administrative burdens for campus financial aid staff. And ultimately this bill is about providing predictable support and increasing educational success for our students in Washington State.”

Mollie Kuwahara, a State Board legislative intern and student at Tacoma Community College, and Yokiko Hayashi-Saguil, a State Board student services policy associate, testified in favor of the bill.

Kuwahara told senators that because she took time off from school, she had to take prerequisites to her chemical engineering degree for a year and half, time that would count toward her state financial aid eligibility.

“Passing this bill would allow students at our community and technical college campuses and other colleges across the state to have a more realistic timeline as they pursue their postsecondary pathway,” she said.

In similar testimony, Hayashi-Saguil called the bill a benefit for Washington state students.

“Passing this bill would allow our students in the community and technical colleges and other institutions across the state more flexibility as they pursue their postsecondary pathway,” she said.

House committee hears incarcerated veteran reintegration support bill

Jan. 17 — A bill that would help incarcerated veterans reintegrate into civilian life was topic of Tuesday’s House Innovation, Community and Economic Development, and Veterans Committee. The bill, HB 2203, notes support programs at Edmonds College that provide previously incarcerated veterans with academic and mental health counseling, financial assistance and computers as they reintegrate into civilian life. The program also includes outreach and navigation specialists, tuition discounts and waivers for veterans and their families, counseling, employment services, priority registration, and other financial support.

If the bill passes, the six-year pilot program would provide veterans information on available services, a housing subsidy and a reentry subsidy at two State Board-selected pilot sites, one on each side of the Cascades, with consideration given to Edmonds College.

Rep. Cindy Ryu, the bill’s prime sponsor and chair of the committee, praised Edmonds College’s program.

“They're having such good results that we can continue, and, if it’s working really well, why not replicate it across the Cascades and have another location east of the mountains?” she said. “If we can have these formerly incarcerated veterans transition well, get the education needed, find a job, and become contributing members of society, that will help us avoid a lot of expenses further down the line as well as tremendously improving their quality of life as well as their extended family.”

Dennis Gibb, Homeless Veterans' Reintegration Program outreach specialist at Edmonds College, spoke in favor of the bill.

“This bill creates a statewide seamless pathway from incarceration through education to employment. It blends excellent work already in place with successful new initiatives including increased outreach to veterans from marginalized communities,” he said. “Our community colleges already have education navigators inside facilities–what is missing is the piece provided by HB 2203, which is outreach, support and navigation to justice-impacted veterans.”

Credential registry, College Grant expansion bills heard in House higher education committee

Jan. 17 — The House Postsecondary Education and Workforce Development Committee at its hearing Wednesday heard bills that would create a credential registry and expand the Washington College Grant to students enrolled in Washington state's Basic Food Program or the Food Assistance Program.

The Washington Credential Registry, which would be established under HB 2155, would provide users, by July 1, 2025, an online way to search credentials like diplomas, certificates, digital badges, certifications, licenses, apprenticeships, military training, and degrees offered in Washington state. The Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board would be responsible for developing and maintaining the registry. It would be required to consult with agencies and oversee and certify credentials like the State Board, the Washington Student Achievement Council, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the Department of Licensing, the Department of Health, and the Professional Educator Standards Board.

William Belden, a workforce education policy associate with the State Board, told committee members how the bill would affect the community and technical college system.

“We believe that enacting the necessary data collection and reporting will require dedicated staffing at the college and the system level in order to maintain our programs and inventories that change quite frequently based on the local, regional and state partner needs,” he said.

Belden also asked committee members to consider the registry be completed in phases, rather than the July 1, 2025 deadline.

Committee members also took up HB 2214, which would automatically qualify students who participate in Washington state’s Basic Food Program, which includes the federally-funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the state-funded Food Assistance Program. Under this bill, Basic Food Program enrollment would satisfy the Washington College Grant’s financial need requirement.

“For low-income students, first-generation students, rural students, those who are non-traditional, and students of color who face significant barriers to achieving a degree — it's good for them to know that if you graduate high school, you are going to be able to pay for college, and for them to have that certainty gives them a path to possibly getting a credential or apprenticeship, which gives them a living wage, meaningful work, and success in their life,” Rep. Vandana Slatter, the bill’s prime sponsor and chair of the committee, said.

Testifying on behalf of the college system, Yokiko Hayashi-Saguil, a State Board student services policy associate, spoke in favor of the legislation’s intent to increase Washington College Grant accessibility and awareness. She asked committee members to consider clarifying whether the automatic qualification meant simply informing students of their eligibility or if college financial aid offices were to fully process the student’s financial aid, a manual process which would take about 30 minutes per student. Full processing would further stretch financial aid staff, especially given federal changes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid application released earlier this month.

“We believe that this is a fundamentally good bill, but there are some opportunities for us to get clarification and guidance on how to meet the intention of the bill by doing so in a meaningful way and engaging with financial aid staff to be able to do that — to meet the intention, let students know of their eligibility, but get guidance and support to be able to meet the need,” she said.

Trustees confirmed by Senate

The Senate confirmed four trustees to the boards of their colleges this week:

Coming up next week

In its last full week of hearings before the session's first cutoff deadline, committees are set to hear bills that would create programs allowing recent Washington state high school graduates to attend a community or technical college tuition free.

Also up for hearings are bills on incarcerated student financial aid and competency-based education.

Last Modified: 1/19/24, 4:05 PM
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