Capital budget passes, system-request bill heard as committee hearings continue
The Legislature passed a capital budget for the 2017-19 biennium Thursday night, providing funding for building projects, minor repairs, and maintenance and operations throughout the college system. The $4.2 billion budget is expected to be signed by Gov. Inslee soon.
Also this week, committees continued taking testimony on bills affecting community and technical colleges. The House Appropriations Committee took up the system-requested bill that would add Washington residents between the ages of 25 to 44 who do not have a high school diploma or equivalent in the Caseload Forecast Council's forecasting. The council would also forecast the number of students expected to enroll in college basic education for adults courses. Committees also took up bills allowing colleges to use local funds for salaries, supporting students in apprenticeship programs, students experiencing homelessness, dual credit, and mental health.
Apprenticeship and homeless student-support bills heard in Senate committee
Jan. 18 — The Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee took up two bills that would affect the college system at its hearing Thursday. One would create the Passport to Careers program, which would provide financial assistance for foster youth or youth who have experienced homelessness to pursue apprenticeships. The other would establish a pilot program in which two 4-year universities and four 2-year colleges would plan for and accommodate students experiencing homelessness.
Peter Guzman, a workforce policy associate with the State Board, testified in favor of the Passport to Careers program bill. With 21 colleges offering 193 apprenticeship programs, the community and technical college system, he said, is well-equipped to work with students as they start an apprenticeship.
"Current and former foster youth can benefit a great deal from a work to learn model helping them to self-sufficiency in high wage fields, as well as sending them on a path toward post-secondary credential attainment," he said.
Apprenticeships have received increased attention recently from the Trump Administration's Department of Education and Governor Inslee. Apprenticeships and career-connected learning were major points in Inslee's State of the State address last Tuesday.
"The governor’s focus on youth apprenticeship in an important one and our community and technical college system helps ensure quality education that will put apprentices on a path toward self-sufficiency and further educational attainment," Guzman said. "Our system is also focused on closing equity gaps, and this program will continue to assist in supporting a group of people who experience undue barriers in accessing education."
Erin Frasier, a workforce policy associate with the State Board, testified in favor of the Senate bill that would have colleges and universities pilot planning and accommodation programs for students experiencing homelessness.
"Our community and technical colleges do strive to support homeless students on our campuses within the resources they have, including such efforts as food pantries and partnering with housing providers and getting them referrals to housing assistance," she said.
Colleges' abilities to assist students, however, only go as far as their resources. For a program like the one proposed to be successful, Frasier told senators, the Legislature would need to provide funding.
Bills on dual credit awards and mental health topics in House Higher Education hearing
Jan. 16 — The House Higher Education Committee took up two bills related to awarding college credit to students scoring well on high school exams like International Baccalaureate (IB) or Cambridge International A.
One bill would require colleges and universities to establish coordinated, evidence-based policies for granting general education requirements to students who score at least a four on IB exams. It also specifies that college credits a student earns for scoring at least a three on Advanced Placement (AP) exams be for general education requirements or equivalent.
Rep. Laurie Dolan, the bill's prime sponsor, explained the purpose of her bill is to provide equity between AP and IB following passage of a bill last session providing for credit for AP exams. She wanted to treat the two programs fairly to the benefit of students, parents and teachers.
The second bill would require colleges and universities establish coordinated, evidence-based policies for awarding college credit to students who score a minimum of five on IB exams and those who complete Cambridge International A level programs. It would also require colleges and universities offering concurrent enrollment programs under College in the High School to be accredited by a national accrediting body by 2024-2025.
Since the two bills are so similar, the committee concurrent testimony.
Matthew Campbell, vice president of learning and student success at Pierce College, testified with concerns on the first bill, saying it would narrow a college's ability to be flexible when awarding credit.
"We need the flexibility to be able to award credit for electives or other courses that will get them to their degree completion more quickly and not be tied down to specific courses that they then have to take at the institution as well," Campbell said. A student who has to take additional credits, affecting factors like time to completion and financial aid.
Joyce Hammer, director of transfer education at the State Board, testified on both bills, telling committee members of the system's preference for the second.
"We like that this bill recognizes that we, too, are supportive of challenging and rigorous college prep courses, and we want to increase opportunities for all students, and particularly for us are underserved underrepresented student population," she said.
Hammer also supported the bill's efforts to: create a formalized structure for work between the K-12 and the higher education sectors, that the credit awarding policy provides for flexibility so colleges can maximize credit given to a student, the oversight of College in the High School to ensure quality and consistency, and emphasis on obtaining relevant data to ensure programs best serve students.
The committee also heard a bill that would create a statewide resource for behavioral health and suicide prevention in colleges and universities. It would also create a grant program that would fund behavioral health and suicide prevention efforts at colleges and universities. The bill specifies that the first six grants be awarded to community and technical colleges.
Rep. Tina Orwall, the bill's prime sponsor, told the committee this bill is about awareness and intervention.
"This about making sure higher ed has crisis plans around suicide. It’s about having an entity create training materials and things where staff, faculty and students can go online and learn more about suicide prevention. It’s about setting up partnerships so we can be doing more things on site in our colleges, especially our two-years which have a very high number of veterans. So it’s about bringing and increasing capacity for mental health services," she said.
Edward Esparza, a policy associate for student services at the State Board, said the college system supports the bill. He was joined by Scott Latiolais, vice president of student affairs at Clover Park Technical College, Esther Sexton, a mental health counselor at Lower Columbia College, and Katie Viola, director of student development at Lake Washington Institute of Technology.
"There are six institutions within the CTC system that currently do not have any mental health counselors on staff. Clover Park and Renton are two of them, and still more that have very limited resources. Many of them have student to counselor ratios in the neighborhoods of 1 to 1,000," Latiolais said. "Many of them also ask faculty counselors to provide both academic and behavioral health services which are not ideal."
Sexton told representatives having behavioral health services on campus is critical to students.
"Students don’t have finances to get off campus most of the time and when they do, they don’t have the time to get to services. So it’s really important that people don’t have to choose between getting an education and getting their mental health needs met," she said.
Viola spoke to the need to have mental health services available to students who are low-income and veterans.
"Many of the students who come to the Washington two-year colleges are low-income students who lack financial resources and often seek mental health assistance from our institutions," she said. "Nearly half of all veterans have said that they are contemplating suicide, which, in fall quarter alone, would have been 75 Lake Washington students."
Bill allowing colleges to use local funds for salary increases heard in Senate committee
Jan. 15 — A bill that would authorize colleges to provide additional compensation to academic employees beyond that established by the Legislature was heard in the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee on Monday. Under current law, compensation for community and technical college employees agreed to in collective bargaining agreements may not exceed the amount or percentage authorized by the Legislature.
As part of is 2018 legislative agenda, the college system is requesting $9 million from the Legislature to backfill salary increases authorized but not fully funded in the 2018-2020 operating budget.
Testifying on behalf of the college system was:
- John Boesenberg, deputy executive director for business operations at the State Board
- Michele Johnson, chancellor of the Pierce College District
- Bob Knight, president of Clark College
- Jim Minkler, president of Grays Harbor College
- Bob Mohrbacher, president of Centralia College
- Bill Ryberg, interim co-president of Tacoma Community College
- Jeff Wagnitz, interim president of Highline College
Each voiced support for faculty compensation increases, but expressed concern for the method of funding.
"We totally support our faculty. We know they’re fantastic. We know they’re the core of our student success. And they deserve to have salary increases," Johnson said. "The challenge we have with this [bill], however, is the continued disinvestment in higher education because it really is a zero-sum game."
Under current law, the Legislature sets tuition rates for in-state students and base allocations given to the college system. Local funds have increasingly come into use as state funding for higher education has decreased since the recession.
"My real concern with this bill is that the colleges do not control the revenue stream," Mohrbacher said. "It’s a little bit like trying to set your budget by looking at how much you have in your checkbook at the moment. That doesn’t tell you the obligations you have going forward — the bills that you’re already paying."
Minkler told committee members that small colleges will have more difficulty providing salary increases since they do not have the resources a large college would.
"My fear is with the legislation as you are looking at it before you is that it will actually widen the disparity between the small rural colleges with limited resources and limited local dollars versus the larger colleges that have more resources," he said.
Colleges, the presidents said, could face decisions whether to fund salary increases or offer classes and services to students.
"Relying on other sources to fund permanent employee compensation only offers a temporary solution, and, in many cases, put colleges in the position of eliminating courses or shuttering classroom space if colleges are not able to use local funds to keep their campuses in operational condition," Ryberg said.
Ryberg, along with Johnson, Boesenberg and Wagnitz told committee members the responsibility for fully funding salaries ultimately lies with the Legislature.
"We’ve repeatedly studied this issue, developed national and statewide data and come to you with requests, and those requests repeatedly go down in flames," Boesenberg said. "Our faculty deserve better pay, but moving the responsibility from the Legislature, where we believe it belongs, to the local college just isn’t the solution we think is viable."
Wagnitz echoed Boesenberg's sentiment, hoping the Legislature would contribute to salaries.
"I would ask for some consideration for a continued partnership with the Legislature so that when it comes time, perhaps, to bargain additional funds that so far have been sequestered from bargaining locally, that it would happen under conditions that the Legislature was contributing as well," Wagnitz said.
Sen. Karen Keiser, the bill's prime sponsor, heard the concern that Legislature was responsible for fully funding salaries.
"I do think that legislators do have to own this in some way because we have been writing the budgets that haven’t increased enough the revenue stream for our community and technical colleges. Since the Great Recession, I know that state support has fallen from around 90-some percent to 61 percent at Highline, and that’s happened at other colleges, too" she said. "So I understand we’re all in a bind here. We’ll do what we can."
The presidents hoped committee members would be open to amendments that would lift constraints on college budgets.
"I’d be more than willing to support amendments that turnover dollars be used in support of compensation, but to go beyond that without any additional funding is just going to put additional constraint on the community colleges," Knight said.
Testifying in support of the bill from colleges were:
- Susan Palmer, faculty from Walla Walla Community College
- Michael Boggess, faculty at Pierce College and representing AFT Washington
- Simone Terrell, faculty at Renton Technical College and representing AFT Washington
- Carla Naccarato-Sinclair, representing the Community Colleges of Spokane and the WEA
- Bernal Baca, representing AFT Washington
Basic Education caseload forecast bill heard in House Appropriations
Jan. 15 — The House Appropriations Committee took up the college system's requested bill that would include Washington residents aged 25 to 44 who do not have a high school diploma or equivalent in the Caseload Forecast Council's forecasting. The council would also forecast the number of students expected to enroll in college basic education for adults courses.
Rep. Larry Haler, the bill's prime sponsor, spoke on behalf of the bill. He stressed the bill's ultimate outcome is increasing a person's chances of being hired.
"By going through this program, you get your GED® and then you can move onto community college, if you wish to, but at least you have an employable skill or an employable degree with a high school education," he said.
Testifying on behalf of the college system was Jon Kerr, basic education for adults director at the State Board, and Kim Ward, dean for communication and transitional studies at Tacoma Community College. Both told legislators that this bill would help colleges be strategic as they develop class schedules, report metrics to funders, and budget for future quarters. Like Haler, they emphasized the ultimate goal of increasing employment.
"Including Washington adults without a high school or post-secondary credential and who need basic skills, the Basic Education Caseload forecast would enable us to appropriately expand capacity and increase student access, transition and completion," Kerr said. "Most importantly, it would help us increase living wage job opportunities for our basic skills adults while meeting the needs of Washington’s 21st century workforce."
An estimated 700,000 Washingtonians do not have the basic skills to continue their education at the college-level or meet employer needs for a qualified workforce. The Washington Roundtable estimates the state will have 740,000 job openings in the next five years, more than half of which will be filled by people with post-secondary training.
"I work annually with my colleagues to prioritize and budget resources related to program development, and these decisions need to be backed by reliable data on outcomes, demographics, trends and foretasted needs," Ward said. "We have a responsibility as a state to train and educate our own talent. Having reliable data and the ability to forecast the needs in our state will go a long way to ensure we have the information needed to make this happen."
Coming Up Next Week
Hearings continue next week with two bills on student success on Tuesday's House Higher Education Committee's agenda. In Thursday's Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee hearing, senators will take up a bill that would fully fund and expand eligibility of the State Need Grant and one that would waive tuition for an eligible student's first two years at a community or technical college.