Thursday, April 12, 2012

Higher education spared further deep budget cuts

After weeks of partisan infighting, the Washington Legislature passed a 2012-13 supplemental budget early Wednesday  characterized by Gov. Chris Gregoire as a budget that preserves “critical programs, including education, and sets our state on a more sustainable path.”
Cuts to the operating budgets of the state’s two- and four-year public colleges and universities ranged from .03 percent to 1.4 percent from the base funding level established in the 2011-13 biennial budget. These cuts are substantially less than those levied against higher education in the previous three years.
Capital appropriations of $1.078 billion were approved for the six four-year universities and the 34 community and technical colleges.
Prior to this session, legislators agreed on a bi-partisan basis not to impose additional deep cuts on education in this supplemental budget year, despite a revenue shortfall of about $500 million. In keeping with this priority, K-12 was cut only 1 percent overall.  On the other hand, Human Services was cut 5.7 percent, and all other state services were cut a total of 2.2 percent.
Funding for the State Need Grant program, Washington’s principal assistance program for needy students, and for the State Work Study program, which helps the state’s low and middle students, was maintained at 2011-13 levels. Read more.

Friday, March 23, 2012

News Release: HECB to consider institutional authorization rule changes in March 29 meeting

OLYMPIA – During a conference call meeting on Thursday March 29, the Higher Education Coordinating Board (HECB) will consider proposed rule changes related to higher education institutions that must obtain Board authorization to operate in Washington.
The proposed rules would increase fees for initial degree authorization, degree authorization renewal and degree authorization reapplication.  The rules also would establish fees for new program applications and new site applications, and create definitions for a “new program application” and “new site application.”
The Washington Degree-Granting Institutions Act (RCW 28B.85) requires institutions to seek authorization unless specifically exempted from the requirement. Public institutions, longstanding private institutions and schools that exclusively offer religious training are among those exempted from the requirement.
Last year, the Legislature allowed the HECB to eliminate unnecessary barriers to the delivery of online, competency-based education by Western Governor University-Washington.  Consistent with that legislation, WGU- Washington has been granted a temporary waiver from the authorization requirement of the Degree-Granting Institutions Act.  The proposed rules include language to allow a specific exemption category for schools that receive legislative recognition as Washington schools, provided the schools comply with all conditions established by the Legislature.
The proposed rules also add clarifying language to assist stakeholders in understanding Washington requirements for degree-granting institutions. No comments were received on the proposed rule revisions during a public hearing in January.
Briefing materials for the meeting are available at:

To listen to the meeting:
Phone: 1-877-668-4490
Access code: 572 909 365

Friday, March 9, 2012

New Student Achievement Council duties outlined in legislation passed Thursday

A bill establishing a new Student Achievement Council effective July 1, 2012 to replace the Higher Education Coordinating Board was approved by the Legislature on Thursday, the last day of the regular legislative session.
E2SHB 2483 establishes a nine-member council to provide focus and purpose for the goals of increasing educational attainment in Washington, including transitions from secondary to postsecondary and between and among postsecondary institutions.
Many of the HECB’s duties and functions, as well as current staff, are carried forward to the new council. The bill gives the Governor authority to appoint the five citizen council members and to appoint the executive director from a list of three candidates submitted by the council.
The five citizen council members appointed by the Governor will have experience and knowledge of higher education. One of the citizen members is to be a student who will serve a one-year term. The rest of the council members will serve four-year terms.
Also serving on the council will be a representative from the four-year public universities chosen by the presidents of those institutions and a representative of the state’s community and technical college system chosen by the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges.
 A representative of an independent, nonprofit higher education institution selected by an association of independent non-profit institutions, and a representative of the state’s K-12 system selected by the Superintendent of Public Instruction in consultation with the Department of Early Learning and the state Board of Education round out the membership.
The mission and purpose of the council is to:
·         Propose to the Governor and Legislature goals for increasing educational attainment in Washington, recommend the resources necessary to achieve the goals, and monitor progress toward meeting the goals.
·         Propose to the Governor and the Legislature and the state’s educational institutions improvements and innovations needed to adapt the state’s educational institutions to evolving educational needs.
·         Advocate for higher education through various means, with the goal of educating the general public on the economic, social and civic benefits of postsecondary education and the consequent need for increased financial support.
The bill also creates a joint higher education committee of the Legislature to review the work of the Student Achievement Council and to provide legislative feedback, engage with the council and the higher education community on creating greater communication, coordination, and alignment between the system and expectations of the Legislature, and to provide recommendations for higher education policy.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

House and Senate budgets differ on amounts cut from higher education

The House and Senate continued to wrangle over the 2012-13 supplemental budget this week, with cuts to higher education one element of contention.
In a dramatic move Saturday, March 3, Senate Republicans, joined by three Democrats, passed by one vote a budget that differed substantially from the one approved earlier in the week by the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
That initial Senate budget proposal, which contained no appropriations cuts for higher education, had been applauded by college and university presidents throughout the state, whose institutions have been hit hard by successive budget cuts since the state’s financial crisis began in 2008.
The version that passed the Senate on Saturday, however, would cut higher education appropriations 1.4 percent, or about $37.5 million from the original 2011-13 biennial budget.  The proposed House budget, passed Feb. 29, would cut higher education funding 2.1 percent, or about $59 million from the original biennial budget.
Details of how the cuts would be apportioned by institution are available in a table prepared by the Higher Education Coordinating Board. The original 2011-13 biennial budget appropriated a total of $2.75 billion for higher education.
It remains to be seen what the final budget will look like. The House and Senate budget bills (ESHB 2127 and ESB 5967are now in the Ways and Means Committees of the opposite chambers, where a compromise is being sought prior to the Thursday adjournment deadline for the regular legislative session.
Last week, when the initial Senate budget was proposed, University of Washington President Michael Young said in a statement posted on the UW website: “The Senate [Ways & Means Committee chair’s] budget proposal released today puts a halt to four years of public disinvestment in higher education.  The Senate is to be commended to taking this bold stance.”
 A statement posted Monday by Elson Floyd, president of Washington State University, struck a cautious note and underscored the institution’s strong ties to legislators on both sides of the aisle. 
“We will work closely with Democratic and Republican lawmakers to promote a budget that protects, to the greatest extent possible, funding for our students and our university and a budget that places our state on a solid financial footing for the future,” Floyd’s statement said.
The Senate budget would levy proportionally larger cuts in the UW and WSU budgets as offsets to increased non-resident tuition revenue, cuts to the UW College of the Environment and WSU’s College of Agriculture, Human and Natural Resources, and a $5 million transfer from each to the State Toxics Control Account.
A statement posted Monday by The Evergreen State College noted that the Senate supplemental budget also includes reduced authority to waive tuition as one alternative to awarding student financial aid. That budget provision is contingent upon passage of separate legislation, SB 6617, which would limit tuition waivers to no more than 16 percent of gross authorized operating fees at the UW, and lower percentages at the other baccalaureate institutions. That bill filed, Feb. 27, currently is in the Senate Ways & Means Committee.
The Senate budget would cut general fund appropriations for the state’s community and technical colleges by about $20 million less than the House budget version, but CTCs would also see their authority to waive tuition reduced by about $13 million. 
The budget that passed the Senate Saturday provides funding for student financial aid at basically the same level as the version proposed by the Senate Ways & Means Committee, including no cuts the State Need Grant Program and no suspension of the State Work Study program. 
The Senate supplemental budget also would provide an additional $3.8 million to both the UW and WSU to expand enrollments in engineering programs at the institutions.               

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Senate supplemental budget plan includes no new cuts for higher education

The Senate Ways & Means Committee chair’s 2012 supplemental budget proposal announced Tuesday would maintain appropriations for public four-year and community and technical colleges at practically the same levels they were in the original 2011-13 biennial budget.
Although that original appropriation was 25 percent below the amount needed to maintain programs at 2009-11 levels, the leveling off of higher education budget reductions will no doubt be seen as good news by many.
The House budget proposal released last week cuts $30 million and $35 million respectively from the four-year and two-year sectors, but adds back $14 million for STEM enrollments and increased engineering degree production. None of the add backs for these high demand fields are included in the Senate budget, though $3.8 million of existing funding for the University of Washington and Washington State University is dedicated for more engineering degrees.
In a key change from the original proposed House budget, the version reported out of committee and pending on the House floor removed the $4.4 million STEM degree incentive grants that would have been administered by the new Student Achievement Council that is expected to replace the HECB in July. The House budget instead adds STEM funding to the four comprehensive institutions. Since the Senate budget does not make cuts no redirection of funding is included either.
Under the Senate proposal, no additional cuts are taken from student financial aid. The Senate directs $100,000 to the Washington State Public Policy Institute to conduct a longitudinal study of the State Need Grant (SNG) program to determine the extent to which this program has increased access and degree attainment for low-income students.
The House budget reduced SNG by $10 million but retained funding for all other programs at the same level as the biennial budget, including State Work Study. The only change in the House budget reported out of committee from the original was $50,000 added to study and develop financing recommendations for the Higher Education Loan Program (HELP), which is already on the books with no means of funding the principal to make such loans.
The Senate proposal includes $1 million in additional funding to perform the functions spelled out for the new Student Achievement Council. The House budget proposal increased funding by $600,000 over the current HECB funding level.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

House proposal reflects somewhat improved budget picture since November

The House Ways and Means Committee chair’s 2012 supplemental budget proposal released Tuesday would reduce appropriations to public colleges and universities by $32 million in 2013, but that reduction is significantly less than the $140 million contained in the Governor’s supplemental budget released in November.
Although the latest budget proposal could have been worse, it comes at a time when state support for higher education has already been cut by about 25.5 percent since the start of the 2007-09 biennium. The Senate’s supplemental budget plan will follow later this week or next, and the final conference budget will be negotiated and released near the end of the legislative session scheduled on March 8.
The House committee chair’s budget plan also reduces by $10 million an earlier increase in the State Need Grant (SNG) program that is intended to offset the impact of tuition increases on low-income students. In attempt to continue serving the same number of students, SNG awards would be reduced by up to 3.5 percent across all income categories, but only after applying the tuition-increase offsets. The total SNG appropriation would be about $293 million, or a $27 million increase from the 2011-12 fiscal year.
The House budget proposal also would leave intact funding for the State Work Study program, which the Governor’s earlier supplemental budget plan proposed to suspend next year. The House budget also includes a $1 million increase in the Leadership 1000 scholarship program (contracted with the College Success Foundation) to match private donors with economically disadvantaged students who would otherwise be unable to attend college after depleting their financial aid sources.
More favorable revenue and caseload forecasts have contributed to a somewhat improved budget picture since the Governor’s plan was released late last year. In addition, the House committee chair’s proposal delays the June 30, 2013 apportionment payment for K-12 school districts to July 1, 2013 and also delays a levy equalization payment, for about a $400 million shift to next biennium.
In light of recent developments, discussion also has cooled on a proposal to send a possible tax measure to the voters to “buy back” some budget cuts.
“The good economic news this month enabled us to steer clear of deep cuts in public education and limit impacts on social services and higher ed while staying within our current means,” House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan of Covington said in a statement Tuesday.
Specifics in the new budget proposal also reflect a priority by some budget writers to increase the number of degrees earned by students in high demand fields.  Unless additional resources are provided, a continuing gap is predicted between the number of available jobs in such fields, and the number of trained workers the state’s higher education system produces, according to a new report produced by the HECB, the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, and the Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board.
To address those concerns, the House budget includes money to increase high-demand engineering degrees by allocating $3.9 million each to the UW and WSU for that purpose.  It also would allocate $4.4 million for a STEM Degree Incentive Program, with grants to public baccalaureate institutions that demonstrate the greatest capacity to efficiently produce quality graduates in science, technology, engineering, and math.
The House committee proposal also would provide $600,000 to carry out functions assigned to a state-level higher education agency that will succeed the HECB in July. The duties of the new agency, which would be called the Student Achievement Council, are included in Senate Bill 6232 and House Bill 2483, which started as companion bills but have each been amended several times throughout the session.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

House committee to discuss workforce needs report in Thursday session

The House Higher Education Committee will hold a workshop Thursday to discuss a new joint report on the state’s future workforce needs, including the challenge to produce more workers trained for high demand occupations in Washington.
The report, a joint effort by the HECB, the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, and the Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board, predicts increased demand for trained workers in a range of employment categories that require postsecondary education.
Titled “A Skilled and Educated Workforce,” the report is the third in a series of biennial reports required by state law to assess forecasted net job openings at each level of higher education and the number of credentials needed to match the forecast of net job openings. A summary of the report's main conclusions was provided at the January HECB meeting.
To meet expected worker demand in the years ahead, the state will need to increase higher education system capacity to produce more trained workers at all education levels, the report notes.  In the past, Washington employers have responded to similar shortages of Washington trained workers by hiring them from other states and countries. 
About two-thirds of job openings in Washington between 2014 and 2019 will require at least a year of postsecondary education. To fill those jobs, an additional 9,000 degree holders above 2010 production level will be needed annually at the mid (two-year) level, 33,000 at the bachelor’s level, and 9,000 annual at the graduate level, the report indicates.
Washington is now well behind meeting increased degree targets set in the 2008 Strategic Master Plan for Higher Education and in a recent plan update adopted by the HECB. The final joint report will be published later this month and also will be available soon on the HECB, SBCTC and WTECB websites.  
The report includes a gap analysis of projected worker shortages in various employment categories requiring various levels of educational attainment.  For example, the analysis projects a relatively large shortage of trained workers to fill installation, maintenance and repair positions that require mid-level degrees between 2014 and 2019.
For positions requiring bachelor’s degrees, the largest gaps between 2010 degree production and future demand are in computer science and engineering, software engineering and architecture. In positions requiring a graduate degree, the biggest gaps are projected in the health professions and computer sciences.    
The report also cites the state’s long-standing shortages of registered nurses as an example of the progress that can be made when the entire system works toward the goal of narrowing the trained worker gap.   Since 2003, the state has increased the annual number of associate and bachelor’s level nursing graduates by over 68 percent. 
“This was possible because state agencies, public and private institutions, labor and the industry remained focused on the nursing shortage over the long term and the Legislature and the Governor provided support for growth in this area.”
A similar emphasis has now been placed on the training of aerospace workers, a development that could lead to substantial progress in filling the needs of that employment area, the report says.