Friday, February 25, 2011

Bills incorporating HEFT recommendations passed by House and Senate committees

House and Senate versions of a bill that would implement some recommendations from the Governor’s Higher Education Funding Task Force (HEFT) have been approved by legislative policy committees.
The House version of the bill, SHB 1666, received a public hearing in the House Ways & Means Committee Thursday.  The committee has not yet scheduled any further action on the bill prior to the Feb. 25 fiscal committee cut-off, although committee staff announced that a proposed second substitute has been prepared.
The task force was made up primarily of senior leaders in the state’s business and professional communities, but also included representatives from education, government and other fields. The task force issued a report with recommendations in January.
Both bills include new degree-completion targets to bring the state closer to achieving the degree production goals set forth in the state’s 2008 Strategic Master Plan for Higher Education. That plan called for a 40 percent annual increase in degree production in 10 years—a goal the state has not made significant progress toward achieving.
The Senate version contains the HEFT recommendation requiring the HECB to design and manage a new baccalaureate degree incentive program in collaboration with the public baccalaureate institutions. The program would provide funds to four-year institutions based on how well they progress in achieving a set of performance measures, including general- and STEM-degree production. As part of the incentive program, the HECB would review and analyze the performance data and prepare reports on each institution’s performance improvement.  
Both the House and Senate bills would establish new requirements for raising or lowering tuition at public baccalaureate institutions. Consistent with task force recommendations, resident undergraduate tuition at the baccalaureate institutions would be linked to state higher education funding levels and to funding levels at similar public institutions in select states.
The new limit on four-year institutions’ ability to increase tuition for resident undergraduates is the 60th percentile of such tuition at similar institutions in the Global Challenge states.  The 7 percent cap on annual tuition hikes for resident undergraduates in current law is removed for the four-year institutions, but is retained for the community and technical colleges. 
If tuition plus state funding exceeds the 60th percentile of total per-student funding at similar institutions in the Global Challenge states, tuition must be reduced enough to prevent total per-student funding from exceeding the 60th percentile at the similar institutions in the Global Challenge states.
The new tuition approach would commence at different times under the House and Senate versions and would use different years as baselines for state funding levels. In the Senate version, SSB 5717, the new approach would be used to establish tuition for the 2013-14 academic year, while SHB 1666 would use it beginning in 2011-12.
State funding next year is likely to be below the level of state funding in both FY 08 and FY 11, so the new tuition cap would go into effect using either baseline. The principle consequence for which baseline year is used would be seen in enrollment levels. If state funding falls below the baseline year, institutions are allowed to reduce enrollment. If state funding does not fall below the baseline, institutions cannot reduce enrollment.
The Senate version would use 2011 funding levels to determine if institutions can raise tuition to the 60th percentile level; the House would use 2008 funding levels. The difference between these two baseline years is significant—state funding for the six public baccalaureate institutions totaled $1.8 billion in FY 2008 and $1.3 billion in FY 2011.
At the state’s community and technical colleges, tuition levels for resident undergraduates beginning in 2013-14 would be set in the omnibus appropriations act, but could not increase more than 7 percent over the previous year.
Both bills would set new degree-production targets for four-year institutions to achieve. They include:
  • Increasing the number of bachelor’s degrees produced by Washington residents by 6,000 over 2010 levels (a 27 percent increase);
  • Producing at least 2,000 of those additional degrees in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math), computer sciences and similar fields; and
  • Increasing the proportion of students from underrepresented groups who earn degrees to at least 19 percent.
Under the Senate version, revenue from tuition increases above 7 percent would be required to be used for the cost of instruction and other related costs. The House version does not include the restriction.
The House version also calls for the establishment of a new task force on “public interest degrees,” which include those in the STEM, health and clinical sciences, and similar fields. The task force would make recommendations on modifications to public interest degrees and on policies that increase the ability of public and private institutions to prepare citizens in public interest fields. 
The House bill also includes an incentive for students who enroll in public interest degree programs. For those students, tuition increases would be limited to no more than 5 percent over the previous year.
Both the House and Senate bills would require public four-year institutions to report specific data to the HECB that would allow for consistent measurement of progress toward achieving long term higher education goals. The two bills include some variations in the types of data that would be gathered and monitored.
Another HEFT recommendation included in the House bill would create the Washington Pledge Scholarship program. The program’s goal would be to create a $1 billion endowed scholarship program to help low and middle income students attend college. The program would be administered by a private, non-profit organization under contract with the HECB.

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