Tuesday, December 13, 2011

State Work Study provides students career skills, experience

State Work Study, a program that enables students at 55 public and independent institutions in Washington to earn part of the cost of their education, faces suspension in the Governor’s proposed 2012-13 supplemental budget, although it appears to have escaped the initial round of cuts being proposed by the House and Senate during the current special session.
Just a few years ago, before it was reduced by two-thirds, the program served nearly 9,500 students. Now it is projected to serve 3,500, many of whom report they won’t be able to stay in school if the remaining program funding is cut, said Rachelle Sharpe, director of student financial assistance at the HECB in testimony before the House Higher Education Committee on Monday.
Sharpe highlighted key facts about the program, emphasizing its role helping students nearing graduation gain critical skills, experience and employment opportunities while increasing the productivity and profitability of state businesses.
As an example of how the program benefits both students and employers, Sharpe cited the Seattle Biomedical Research Institute focused on curing infectious diseases, which has hired 200 work study students over the last decade. Fifteen of those student employees continue to work for the company as permanent employees after graduation, and the firm continues to praise students’ contributions to its progress. 
About 2,000 employers statewide participate, paying a percentage of the students’ wages as well as all benefits costs. Washington recently increased the amount employers must contribute to the program in an effort to offset funding reductions to needy students. Off-campus, for-profit employers now must pay 60 percent of student wages, on-campus employers pay 40 percent of wages, and off-campus non-profits as well as STEM employers pay 30 percent.   
Sharpe indicated that two rounds of increased match rates since 2009-10 have been challenging for employers in terms of maintaining previous levels of program participation. The state program pays a somewhat higher wage rate than the separate federal work study program, which also is available to participating institutions. Both programs provide institutions significant flexibility in making individual awards.
State Work Study program funds are used, in many instances, to assist upper-level or graduate students who are progressing toward or nearing completion of degrees. Federal work study funds, on the other hand, are often used by institutions to assist students in their first year or two, Sharpe said.  
State Work Study funding for 2010-11 totaled $20.6 million for 7,500 students. Of this, $14.3 million was state support and $6.3 million was employer support. In 2011-12, 3,500 students are slated to receive a total of $11 million – of which $3 million is employer contribution.
Sharpe said SWS funding is distributed mostly to full-time students, who are limited to 19 hours of work per week. Research has correlated part-time work with increased levels of student success, she said, as long as student workloads remain between 15 and 19 hours per week. 
Two Evergreen State College students who participate in the State Work Study program testified at the hearing. One, Cory Frye, said he enjoyed working hard in a business embedded in the community that is doing good work. The other, Emily McKown, said she would not be able to go to college without the program.
“It’s a good program,” McKown said. “It furthers my career experience, and having a couple of days a week with hands-on work helps me understand and have time to work through ideas presented in the classroom.”

Legislature moving on proposal to whittle down some of budget shortfall

The House Ways & Means Committee this morning recommended passage of an “early-action” supplemental budget measure that would make nearly $480 million in spending cuts and other adjustments as a first step toward closing a projected $1.4 billion revenue shortfall for the remainder of the 2011-13 biennium.
PSHB 2058 and the Senate version, PSSB 5883, include no additional cuts to higher education for now. However, significant reductions are likely to be on the table when the Legislature convenes in January for its regular 2012 session.  That’s when legislators will attempt to finish work on resolving the state’s latest budget crisis.
Today’s House committee action, and a Senate committee vote that could come this afternoon, move the Legislature a step closer to adjournment, possibly this week.  Gov. Gregoire called the Legislature into special session to address the budget after revenue forecasts projected the state would fall well short of revenue assumptions contained in the biennial budget passed earlier this year.
A supplemental budget plan offered by the Governor would cut $2 billion in state spending over the balance of the biennium, including $160 million in support for the state’s public colleges and universities.
The proposal also would suspend the State Work Study program in 2012, saving about $8 million.  Under that proposal, approximately 3,500 low-and middle-income college students would lose money they earn working to help pay college expenses.
The Governor also has proposed a temporary sales tax increase to buy back cuts to higher education institutions and other key programs.
Differences over how to deal with the bulk of the budget shortfall apparently mean the Legislature will be unable to complete the work during the special session. 
One bright spot in the House and Senate budget bills is a provision to add
$1 million for the Aerospace Loan Program. The program was established by the Legislature and Governor earlier this year to provide low-interest loans to students studying aerospace production at two training centers in Everett and Spokane.  The HECB administers the loan program.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Senate committee gets first look at proposal for new state-level education agency

A draft proposal expected to be in the hands of legislators later this month will recommend creating a new state Office of Student Achievement to focus on increasing educational attainment from preschool through college.
Members of the Senate Higher Education & Workforce Development Committee heard a briefing on the proposal last week from Leslie Goldstein, higher education policy advisor for Gov. Chris Gregoire.  Over the summer and fall, the Governor chaired the Higher Education Steering Committee, a group created by the Legislature to propose responsibilities for a new Council for Higher Education (CHE), which is slated to replace the HECB in July.
The proposal likely to emerge from the steering committee would create an entity with broader responsibilities than higher education alone. The new Office of Student Achievement would replace the HECB. Its responsibilities would include coordination and planning among all state education entities, including the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Department of Early Learning.
The Office of Student Achievement proposal outlined by Goldstein was compared by some legislators to Gov. Gregoire’s earlier proposal for a new state Department of Education. That proposal was opposed by state Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn and others, and did not pass in the last legislative session.
Goldstein said the Office of Student Achievement would be very different from the previously-proposed Department of Education.  Rather than having responsibility for actually governing and managing P-20 educational programs, the new office would be tasked with providing better policy coordination among the entities. It would not change the existing relationships among state-level agencies and local educational providers, such as between OSPI and local school districts, or SBCTC and community and technical colleges, Goldstein said.
The proposed new office would incorporate duties now performed by the HECB, the State Board of Education, and the Educational Research and Data Center, which is currently housed in the Office of Financial Management.  The proposal would not create a separate state office to manage student financial aid programs, as enacted in the CHE legislation. Financial aid administration would remain with the new office. 
Under the proposal outlined by Goldstein, the Office of Student Achievement would have an executive director appointed by the Governor and an advisory board comprised of six citizens and five representatives from state education agencies and higher education institutions. Two non-voting members would represent private independent K-12 schools and the Independent Colleges of Washington.
Goldstein said steering committee consultants and some members have concerns about the P-20 scope of the new agency and prefer a board comprised exclusively of citizen members, similar to the existing HECB, rather than one consisting of a mix of citizens and institutional and stakeholder representatives. She predicted the draft proposal expected later this month will be a “consensus document” of the steering committee, “with some concerns expressed as well.”  

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Wild first day of special session brings pleas from education and social service advocates

The story told by a 20-year-old Seattle Central Community College student perhaps best illustrates the points made by advocates for both education and social services at a boisterous public hearing Monday on the Governor’s supplemental budget proposal.
Jessica Foster told members of the House Ways & Means Committee she grew up making weekly trips to the food bank for groceries. The first home the family owned was provided by Habitat for Humanity. As a child, she received medical coverage under the state’s Basic Health Plan, but she has since been dropped and is now uninsured.    
However, Foster said she didn’t come to the hearing to tell the committee a “sob story.”  She also wanted it put on the record that she has a 3.7 grade point average in college and is one quarter away from earning an associate degree in elementary education. That will be the highest level of educational attainment anyone in her family has ever achieved.
Foster works full time to cover college costs not provided by student financial aid and scholarships. Even so, she said, she’s unsure if she’ll be able to afford the bachelor’s and master’s degrees that are her next steps toward an eventual teaching certificate in Washington.  
“I don’t want to be a millionaire, but I want to be a teacher who changes lives,” Foster said. Some of the social service programs that are now on the “chopping block” make it possible for people like her to strive for a better way to live, she said.
“By investing in K through 12 and higher education—community colleges especially—you are investing in your future because I am your future,” she added.
The all-cuts supplemental budget proposed by the Governor addresses a projected $1.4 billion drop in state revenue by reducing state spending another $2 billion over the remainder of the 2011-13 biennium. The reductions include a $160.1 million cut for public colleges and universities, and suspension of the State Work Study program for low-income students, saving about $8 million.  
The Governor’s budget director, Marty Brown, on Monday called the budget proposal a choice of “least-worst alternatives.”  To buy back some of the proposed cuts—including the reduction for public colleges and universities—the Governor has proposed a temporary half-cent increase in the state sales tax. The increase would have to be approved by either the Legislature or the voters.
Representatives of the state’s two-year and four-year public colleges and universities also spoke Monday against additional cuts to higher education. They said those reductions would further reduce access to higher education at a time when the state needs more highly educated workers to fill many jobs that currently go unfilled, even in today’s down economy.
They said additional cuts in appropriations would come on top of nearly a 50 percent reduction in state higher education funding since the recession began.  The new budget reductions would raise that to about 65 percent.
The additional reductions in state support could increase pressure on colleges and universities to raise tuition, further reducing affordability for many low- and middle-income students in Washington. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Proposed higher ed cuts could be avoided through revenue measures suggested by Governor

With the Legislature set to begin work next Monday on fixes to the state budget, Gov. Chris Gregoire on Monday offered a supplemental budget proposal that would cut additional millions in state support for higher education and suspend funding for the State Work Study (SWS) program during FY 2012.
The Governor’s plan for responding to a projected $1.4 billion revenue shortfall for the remainder of the biennium also would cut additional millions from K-12, health and human services, and corrections.
While the Governor’s budget proposal assumes no new sources of revenue, she acknowledged that program cuts of the magnitude she is proposing “would do serious damage to the state’s safety net and jeopardize our students’ future.” Therefore, she asked the Legislature to consider approving or asking voters to approve a number of revenue-generating options, including a public vote on a temporary half-cent increase in the state sales tax. That would raise an additional $494 million through June 30, 2013.
Among other things, the additional sales tax money would be used to prevent an additional $160 million reduction in state support for the state’s six public four-year colleges and universities, and 34 community and technical colleges. 
Other potential revenue-generating options would restore additional cuts based upon a priority list offered by the Governor. The list includes restoration of approximately $8 million for the SWS program.
Suspending the SWS program would mean that approximately 3,500 low- and middle-income college students in Washington would lose annual paychecks averaging $3,000—money they use to pay their college expenses. Nearly 2,000 Washington employers would be forced to look for other ways to make up for the loss of productivity they generated by SWS employees.
The HECB has posted additional information about the impacts of suspending the SWS program.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Cuts in student aid and college budgets proposed to help ease state budget crisis

A package of possible state spending cuts—including a proposed 15 percent ($166 million) reduction in state support for public colleges and universities, and the suspension of all remaining State Work Study funding ($8 million) —was proposed by Gov. Chris Gregoire Thursday.
A budget document prepared with the assistance of the Office of Financial Management noted a range of possible budget cuts across many areas of government.
To help ensure transparency in the budget development process, the Governor took the unusual step of announcing likely elements of her budget proposal before the proposal is ready to be delivered to the Legislature and the public.
At a Thursday morning news conference, the Governor said she expected that her proposals will generate feedback from communities and stakeholder groups that could lead to changes in the list of cuts she will include in her official state budget proposal.  “But not much—our options are limited,” the Governor said.
HECB Executive Director Don Bennett said today that he already has urged the Governor’s staff and key legislative representatives not to suspend the State Work Study program, even if preserving it would mean a slight reduction in the State Need Grant (SNG) program.
Later in the day, at a meeting of the Higher Education Steering Committee, which includes representatives from baccalaureate and two-year institutions,  the Governor again alluded to the difficult choices the state will have to make to deal with the current budget crisis, and the potential impact those decisions could have on higher education. “I’m surprised some of you are talking to me,” the Governor remarked to committee members.
Governor Gregoire has called the Legislature in for a special session, beginning Nov. 28, to address a projected $1.4 billion shortfall in state revenue for the remainder of the 2011-13 biennium. In light of the shortfall, the Governor has proposed a $2 billion spending reduction in the biennial budget.  
“I don’t want anyone to think that I like these options,” the Governor said. “The list of options I’ve presented hurts. This is not what I signed up for when I started as a caseworker 40 years ago. But it’s what the world economy handed our state and our country.”
Another budget cutting proposal that has been mentioned but not recommended by the Governor is elimination or reduction of the State Need Grant (SNG) program (up to $303 million). The SNG program annually provides financial assistance to 72,000 low-income students in Washington.  
Also on the table but not recommended by the Governor is an even deeper 20 percent reduction ($222 million) in General Fund support  for the state’s six public baccalaureate institutions and 34 community and technical colleges. 
The Governor’s recommended 15 percent reduction would come on top of a 24 percent reduction in state funding for public colleges and universities approved earlier this year.
To partly offset the impact of continuing cuts to higher education, the Legislature earlier this year granted the baccalaureate institutions expanded flexibility to raise tuition.
More information on the budget reduction alternatives is available on the Office of Financial Management website.