Thursday, January 13, 2011

HECB duties run gamut from financial aid to consumer protection

Washington’s Higher Education Coordinating Board (HECB) is broadly focused on improving quality, access, affordability, and student success in postsecondary education, said Don Bennett, HECB executive director, at a meeting of the Senate Higher Education & Workforce Development Committee on Wednesday.
Although the HECB is often thought of as the board that administers financial aid, the Board works on a wide range of issues and initiatives in Washington, Bennett said. One of the HECB’s most important objectives is to develop and promote programs and services designed to increase the number of K-12 students who are motivated and prepared to enroll and complete degree and certificate programs.  
The HECB plays a key role improving K-12-to-college transition through programs and initiatives like the College Bound Scholarship, GEAR UP, new College Admission Standards (aligned closely with new high school graduation requirements), and expanded teacher preparation, Bennett told the committee.
The HECB collaborates closely with many state and community educational organizations in its policy work, notably the State Board of Education, the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, the Council of Presidents, and the Workforce Training and Education Coordinating boards to improve student preparation and transition.
“We tend to focus on the seams between educational sectors,” Bennett said. “We’re continually working to provide students and educational institutions the tools and skills they need to improve student success – so that many more students advance to career training or education beyond high school.”
Bennett presented the HECB’s biennial report on performance and accountability to the committee.  Jan Ignash, deputy director for policy, planning and research, followed this with a presentation on student transfer and articulation.  An additional report from the Technology Transformation Taskforce also was heard.
“The HECB is not the four-year board.  We are a broad policy, planning, citizen board that attempts to look at the broad public interest in higher education,” Bennett said. The HECB – as a Board and agency – is focused on achieving key objectives outlined in the state’s Strategic Master Plan for Higher Education.
These include increasing diversity, keeping college affordable through the State Need Grant and State Work Study programs, focusing continually on improving student retention and progress, enabling families to save for college through the Guaranteed Education Tuition (GET) program, supporting research and technology transfer initiatives, and carrying out comprehensive system design and planning.
Bennett cited advances being made at the HECB and across higher education as indicators that the state’s colleges and universities – despite unprecedented budget cuts – remain focused on achieving the master plan’s key objectives. Among the highlights he cited:
  • Technology process improvements and c ost savings in financial aid administration.
  • Increases system-wide STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and high demand degree program development.
  • Degree authorization for eight new schools and 147 programs at new and existing schools.
  • More than 120,000 GET accounts now opened.
  • More than 70,000 students signed up for the College Bound Scholarship program.
The work of the HECB is expected to draw continued attention from the Legislature this session. The Governor has proposed integrating the Board’s policy and administrative work into a new Department of Education responsible for early learning, K-12 and postsecondary education.  The HECB has produced a fact sheet outlining its major areas of responsibility.

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