Higher education a hot topic as Legislature kicks off 2018 session
The Legislature kicked off the 2018 session Monday with a changed political landscape as Washington’s community and technical colleges suited up for hearings and work sessions. Voters in the 45th Legislative District elected Manka Dhingra giving Democrats a one-vote majority in the Senate. The change in the chamber's majority meant changes in agendas, leadership, committee charges and committee membership. It also means Democrats control the both houses of the Legislature and the governorship, making it more likely bills supported by the party will pass and become law.
Senators urged to pass capital budget to fund college projects
Jan. 11 — The Senate Ways and Means Committee took up the capital budget at its hearing Thursday. The Legislature failed to pass a budget in its last session, putting on hold projects throughout the state, including many at community and technical colleges. Testifying on behalf of the college system was Wayne Doty, capital budget director at the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, Marty Mattes, executive director of facilities and operations at Bates Technical College, and Eric Murray, president of Cascadia College. All stressed the importance and necessity of passing a capital budget quickly to prevent further delays and increased costs.
Mattes told senators that Bates's Medical Mile Health Science Center Building project would replace a 60-year-old building which was retrofitted in 1989.
"It's got its good use, and the state has valued from that," he said.
He asked senators to include funding in the capital budget for tax increases and cost escalations resulting from delays because no capital budget was passed last year.
"This [project] will benefit the students," Mattes said. "We have pathways for K-12 and the industry; for employees in healthcare that provide services for all of the community."
Cascadia's project — a science and technology building — is 25th on the system's capital budget priority list. Murray spoke of the importance the building holds for the college's capacity to teach students and what that means for the workforce. All of Cascadia's classrooms are full, he said.
"As soon as I have the money to design that building and then build the building, I’ll instantly be able to teach 1,000 more students," he said. "As soon as I can get those 1,000 more students on campus, the majority of those will go onto the University of Washington and get their baccalaureate education and subsequently be eligible to work in the workforce in our region."
Also speaking in support of community and technical colleges and urging senators to pass the capital budget was Walter Schacht, a principal of Schacht Aslani Architects and representing the American Institute of Architects Washington Council, and Seamus Petrie of the Washington Public Employees Association, which represents classified staff at 15 colleges.
Financial aid bills on Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development agenda
Jan. 11 — The Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee took up two financial aid-related bills at its hearing Thursday. One would establish the Evergreen Investment Scholarship program, which would provide free college tuition and fees to eligible residents, and the other would make DACA students eligible for the College Bound Scholarship.
Arlen Harris, legislative director for the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, testified on the Evergreen Investment Scholarship program bill. Accessibility and affordability, he said, are at the heart of the community and technical college mission.
"We support anything that can open our doors even further," he said. "However, we do have concerns if this is not correctly funded."
Ruben Flores, a student services policy associate with the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, and Daniela Suarez, legislative intern for the State Board and representing Washington Community and Technical College Student Association, testified in favor of expanding the College Bound Scholarship.
"We’re happy to support this bill because it’s aligned with the State Board’s mission and values," Flores said. "Thank you for providing our students not only access but a sense of security in a climate that threatens the future of many of our students."
Suarez told senators that the bill would alleviate stress DACA students feel over how they would pay for higher education.
"This opens doors to students that in this political climate are nervous, and they have the right to be," she said. "They are looking to their state for guidance and this bill can do just that. It shows students that we are committed to the future of their education, the future in Washington’s workforce."
Rural education program, College Bound Scholarship bills heard in House Higher Education
Jan. 10 — Bills on extending the College Bound Scholarship to DACA students, creating a rural county high employer demand jobs program and expanding the College Bound Scholarship program to students who are homeless were topics of the House Higher Education Committee's hearing Wednesday.
The bill extending College Bound to DACA students took most of the hearing's scheduled time. Testifying on behalf of the community and technical college system were Ruben Flores, a student services policy associate with the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, and Daniela Suarez, legislative intern for the State Board and representing Washington Community and Technical College Student Association.
"My community college has not only educated me in a diverse number of areas, but has developed me as a person through student job opportunities and student services. This is how I’d like my peers to have access also," Suarez said. "Washington state needs to continue being a champion and leading the way for modern policy."
Erin Frasier, a policy associate for workforce education at the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, testified in favor of the bill that would create a program that would assist students as they pursue education in high employer demand fields.
Community and technical colleges, she said, are well positioned to implement the program. Colleges have experience working with industry to identify needs, develop curriculum and support students as they enter and complete those programs.
"We do recognize we have gaps, and this would provide the resources we need to serve more and to increase that capacity in that workforce pipeline," she said.
Frasier recommended representatives consider supporting books and tools purchases in the bill to further remove barriers to students entering or completing programs.
Finally, Flores testified in favor of the bill that would allow extend the College Bound Scholarship to pay for room and board expenses. He expressed desire to work with representatives to work on details like how the award would be applied to the cost of attendance and how it would work with other forms of financial aid.
Senators hear governor's operating budget proposal
Jan. 9 — Senators took up the governor's proposed supplemental operating budget request at the Ways and Means Committee hearing Tuesday. They heard testimony from David Schumacher, the director of the Office of Financial Management, outlining the proposal and the governor's priorities. Arlen Harris, legislative director for the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, and Daniela Suarez, legislative intern for the State Board and representing Washington Community and Technical College Student Association, testified on behalf of the college system.
Harris told senators investments in Guided Pathways, I-BEST and MESA in the Legislature's 2017-18 operating budget helped the system expand those programs. That funding is helping colleges as they work to help students throughout their time in college.
This year's priorities for the college system, Harris said, are continued investment in programs like Guided Pathways, I-BEST and MESA, funding for faculty and staff compensation and expanding the Opportunity Scholarship.
Suarez told senators her experience navigating the college financial aid and asked them to consider expanding the State Need Grant.
"I can tell you right now it’s really hard in this day and age for us to pay for college and we would appreciate to see a fully funded State Need Grant," she said. "This would give the opportunity for those first generation students, low income families, students that are trying to get on their feet and become a contributing member of society."
Governor delivers annual State of the State address
Jan. 9 — Gov. Jay Inslee delivered his annual State of the State address on Tuesday outlining his priorities for the legislative session now underway. The speech, titled “Our State, Our Destiny” highlighted the governor’s vision of progress made, as well as challenges to overcome.
Among other things, Inslee called on legislators to approve an overdue capital budget needed to fund hundreds of crucial projects related to school construction and others.
“Let’s make sure we don’t leave a legacy of irresponsible brinksmanship,” Inslee said. “It is absolutely crucial that we pass a capital budget as one of the first orders of business this session.”
He encouraged a spirit of collaboration, noting that they are all in Olympia to serve the current and future interests of all Washingtonians and to find solutions to mutual challenges.
“We have invested in our people. That’s why our state has one of the country’s fastest-growing economies, why it was named the Top State for Business, and why statewide unemployment is at a historic low,” Inslee said.
“We have to stop telling our children that a four-year degree is the only path to success. That simply is not true,” Inslee said, highlighting the Career Connect Washington initiative and Washington’s potential to expand youth apprenticeship opportunities and career-connected learning. “Let’s leave a legacy of opportunity for all our students by expanding career-connected learning.”
Inslee referenced legislation introduced this session intended to continue bipartisan efforts to help Dreamers fulfill their potential. Second Substitute House Bill 1488 would, among other things, ensure Dreamers’ ability to pay for college is not damaged by Congress’ refusal to renew their deferred-action status.
“Let’s pass legislation now to ensure the availability of College Bound scholarships for Dreamers, even if the federal government fails to renew their deferred-action status,” Inslee said.
For a video and complete transcript of Inslee’s State of the State address, visit the governor’s 2018 State of the State website.
Joint BAS forestry degree subject of House Agriculture and Natural Resources work session
Jan. 9 — Representatives of Grays Harbor College and Green River College testified before the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee Tuesday on the colleges' joint Bachelor of Applied Science in Forest Resource Management. Jim Minkler, president of Grays Harbor, Lucas Rucks, dean of workforce education at Grays Harbor, Alex Bastos, faculty at Grays Harbor, and Monica Paulson-Priebe, faculty at Green River, made up the panel.
The degree is the first joint BAS degree approved by the State Board. With the joint degree in place, colleges share lectures, field trips and guest speakers, making the program 40 percent less expensive than other forestry management degrees in the state.
Minkler praised the program as it meets industry need.
"What we see in our own program at Grays Harbor College, is a number of our students are actually foresters already — they’re actually working in the industry — and this is a wonderful opportunity for them to work toward a bachelor of applied science degree," he said.
Rucks told representatives the field needs bachelor's degrees — an associate degree no longer meets the industry demand.
"Students that graduated our applied degrees 10 years ago — their career field, they’ve reached the peak of it," he said. "Without a degree in interpersonal communication, risk management, conflict resolution, being able to use the emerging technologies — such as GIS, using drones, different surveying tools — as a harvester, they have reached the peak of what they can do."
Paulson-Priebe walked committee members through how the degree originated and developed. College representatives worked with industry leaders and employers to learn their needs in develop curriculum.
"We are that boots on the ground forester and that’s how we’ve designed our entire curriculum," she said. "We’re designing it in a way that it’s serving other community members in trying to really fulfill that grassroots community in the community college system."
Bastos told representatives the program is structured to teach specific skills and soft skills necessary for the workplace. Foresters now, he said, need to be up-to-date in areas like technology and legislation.
"In both our courses, we also emphasize the importance of decision making and conflict resolution to train more interpersonal skills and social skills," he said. "I think that’s a great model for a small college like us [Grays Harbor] because we know our demographic and our students being from the region feel more comfortable dealing with local issues they know so well."
Governor's budget proposal heard in House Appropriations
Jan. 8 — The 2018 supplemental budget was the topic of House Appropriations Committee's first hearing of the session. After hearing an overview of the governor's budget proposal from Office of Financial Management Director David Schumacher, representatives launched into public testimony. Arlen Harris, legislative director for the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, and Daniela Suarez, legislative intern for the State Board and representing Washington Community and Technical College Student Association, testified on the bill.
Harris thanked representatives for their support of the 2017-18 biennial budget and its investment in Guided Pathways, I-BEST and MESA programs. He told them their investment will help students as they enter college, complete their field of study and move into a 4-year institution or into the workforce more efficiently.
"This year, our top priority is to ask for funding for our faculty and staff, specifically a $9 million shortfall in compensation set forth in the 2017-19 budget," he said. "We’re glad for the governor to include funds to expand funds to expand the Opportunity Scholarship in the underlying bill before you today."
Suarez's testimony centered around fully funding the State Need Grant. She thanked representatives for their investment in the grant in the 2015-16 budget, which funded an additional 69,000 students. She pointed out, however, that 21,000 students are eligible to receive funding but do not because of lack of funds.
"I can tell you right now it is completely stressful in this day and age to try to pay for your schooling, specifically if you come from a low-income family like myself. We are trying to get ahead, we are trying to get through schooling, but without fully funding the State Need Grant, those 21,000 of my peers are not able to get that money that they needed that they were eligible for," she said. "So I’m here asking that we can go ahead and invest in the futures of my 21,000 peers."
Coming up next week
Committees will continue hearing bills in committee, including the college system's requested bill that would add to the Caseload Forecast Council's projections the number of residents aged 25 to 44 without a high school diploma or equivalent and the number of students expected to enroll in community and technical college Basic Education for Adults courses.